One Of Michael Mann's Favorite Moments In Heat Highlights What Makes Robert De Niro's Performance Great

When thinking about Michael Mann's classic film "Heat," plenty of "best movie moments" come to mind. Whether it be the diner conversation between Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) or the enthralling chase sequence at the end of the film, "Heat" has plenty of memorable moments that help define the characters and move the story along. However, when looking at the scenes that best showcase the actor's performances, director Michael Mann had smaller, seemingly more insignificant scenes in mind.

As much as "Heat" draws viewers in with its great action and high stakes, the movie keeps viewers invested in the other side of the lives of these career criminals and the people who hunt them down. The personal, more intimate moments these characters have give them a genuine feel; more than that, the quiet scenes greatly accentuate the actors' performances. Whether you notice it or not, it's in these scenes that the characters and their roles in the film are better exemplified, while also playing a crucial role later in the movie.

The responsibility of Neil McCauley

In a 2017 interview with LA Weekly, director Michael Mann spoke about one of his favorite moments in "Heat," in which Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) catches Chris' wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) having an affair with Hank Azaria's character. Neil calmly handles the situation and sends Charlene home, and the entire sequence is something that Mann firmly believes to be crucial to De Niro's character and the events of the movie as a whole:

"It might be my favorite part of his performance. There's something at that moment — he is 200 percent, Neil McCauley. He is the boss of that crew. He's taking responsibility. He's being protective. 'Clean up, go home: I'll keep the lie. I'll keep the marital betrayal I've just discovered, which is potentially dangerous to our security. And it turns out it is — because Pacino discovers Hank Azaria, and they use him to get to Ashley Judd."

"Heat" is a film with many constantly moving pieces, and Mann's ability to give each aspect of the film a distinct purpose is what elevates the drama and story. What could've easily turned into a one-dimensional heist film became a layered crime drama about non-attachment. Neil's reaction to Charlene's affair perfectly demonstrates the character's beliefs while also becoming a central piece that leads to one of the many downfalls in the film.

Engaging characters, even in the quiet moments

The complex nature of "Heat" and its characters serves as a testament to Michael Mann's talents as a director. It isn't just the shootouts, robberies, and intense conversations that drive the film's narrative. Neil's life outside of his heists also plays a big part in the story, as much as the character speaks of non-attachment. The personal lives of each character, whether a cop or a career criminal, are deeply intertwined with the violence and intense action featured in the story of "Heat." Because of this fact, even a scene that seems insignificant early on in the runtime, like Neil cleaning up after a loved one that's a part of his crew, plays a crucial role in the story.

Robert De Niro's character Neil McCauley and Al Pacino's Vincent Hanna are two incredibly engaging characters. The actors who bring them to life, both in the quiet moments and the big set pieces, are significant to "Heat" and its commentary on the human condition and the fragility of relationships. While Mann believed that one scene of Neil keeping Charlene's secret perfectly exemplifies De Niro as McCauley, I'm sure there are plenty of other moments in "Heat" that feature De Niro channeling the character just as well.