A Blink-And-You-Miss-It Moment In Heat Took Robert De Niro Three Days To Get Right

With the runaway book success of "Heat 2," the literary prequel and sequel written by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner, the L.A. crime classic "Heat" is even hotter than it was back in the mid-'90s. Over time, Mann's cat-and-mouse modern noir epic has grown in esteem to become known as one of the greatest American heist films ever made. "Heat" is driven by the powerhouse performances by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, two New York City theatre actors that, interestingly, had to make a movie set in Los Angeles in order to finally work together. Although they were both featured in "The Godfather Part II," they had never appeared on screen together until the moment they meet in a crowded coffee shop for a meeting of the minds towards the end of "Heat." In what must have been a difficult decision for Michael Mann, he decided not to show both actors in a wide shot together because their performances were too engaging to edit away from. 

Pacino's character, Lieutenant Vincent Hanna, knows that he'll probably never catch such a brilliant thief like Neil McCauley. De Niro plays McCauley like an unshakeable criminal mastermind that will not be taken down, no matter the cost. What makes McCauley such an effective antagonist is his dedication to a personal code. He has rules and has vowed not to break them, which is precisely why the car scene in "Heat" where he decides to turn back and kill Waingro — the man that betrayed him — is so hard to watch. McCauley flashes a reckless smile that Mann recently revealed took three days of shooting to capture. 

Breaking the code and paying for it

In a telling interview with LA Weekly, Mann's comments about getting that smirk on film show just how detailed he is as a filmmaker:

"We shot that one night, I didn't get it. We went back another night, I thought I had it. I didn't have it, and we went back a third night. While we were out there at the airport, I'd say, 'Let's take an hour and go shoot that moment again.' And then we got it. It's one of those really intangible things, but when you get it, it really pays off."

In retrospect, it's easy to see why getting that tiny shot right is so important to McCauley as a character. It might be the only time in "Heat" that he actually does smile, and it's when he breaks his code and does something unexpected. Mann understood that the moment provided a quiet second of insight into McCauley's need to feel alive and not lead such a rigid existence. "Responding that way is a deviation from his discipline of distance and separation," reveals Mann. "It's an error, but it's thrilling to him — he's responding viscerally, intuitively, spontaneously."

If McCauley could have known in that moment that the decision to get revenge would lead to his death, perhaps it's likely he might have made another decision. The book "Heat 2" begins hours after De Niro is killed in the LAX airfield. Pacino doesn't skip a beat and goes right after Val Kilmer's character Chris to continue the story.

Stay tuned for news about movie version of "Heat 2" which should be on the horizon very soon.