The best scene in ‘Heat’ is not the same without its stars

Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro in Michael Mann Warm.
Photo: PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

While Michael Mann Warm was highly rated and solid at the box office upon its 1995 release, the film’s reputation has only grown in recent decades – so much so that it is now (correctly) considered one of the greatest masterpieces of American cinema. I already wrote about Warm several times over the years (including an article about how it took me some time to appreciate its grandeur), and each time I review Mann’s photo, I discover something new.

On Friday, June 17, Tribeca Festival hosts the world premiere of a new 4K restoration of Warm, and I am moderating the preselection panel. As I revisited the film recently, I found myself focusing more and more on one of its most famous scenes — the dinner conversation between LAPD Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro). It’s a major clash, for sure, and one that was widely recognized at the time as well, as it represented the first time these two legends shared a scene. But there’s something else about it that has always fascinated me.

As some fans already know, Mann filmed the story of Warm once before – like a 1989 TV movie called removal from Los Angeles, which was originally conceived as a pilot for an NBC show. The series was never picked up (Mann and NBC boss Brandon Tartikoff disagreed over casting) and reconfigured as a TV movie, which was not particularly well received. to Los Angeles Schedules That year’s review admitted somewhat prophetically that some of the film’s scenes seemed to belong “to a different and better picture.”

Mann had done removal from Los Angeles carving out a large chunk of a massive script that he had been working on throughout the 1970s and that would eventually become Warm. As Mann told me a few years ago, he had a hard time licking the end of that longest, most ambitious story – and wouldn’t until the 1990s, when he finally got to the unforgettable final moments of Warm. removal from Los Angeles has a different ending: the character Neil McCauley (named Patrick McLaren in the TV movie) is killed by his former con/serial-killer enemy, Waingro, who is then kicked out of a hotel window by Vincent Hanna. roll credits.

removal from Los Angeles certainly not Warm – to say the least. But it’s not trying to be. Mann shot it in 19 days on a tight budget, which was standard for TV productions at the time. There was no time to hone performances, explore sets, cover different angles, or get the atmosphere and details right – all key aspects of Mann’s work as a director. The actors are typical TV actors of the time; most look like they came from the Eric Roberts Factory. The two leads (Scott Plank as Vincent Hanna and Alex McArthur as Patrick McLaren) were younger than Pacino and De Niro, so the film doesn’t dwell on its characters’ tiredness or their decades of experience. Warm does. Plank and McArthur dutifully execute their lines and bring a certain amount of prefabricated intensity to their parts. I used to hate the performances in removal from Los Angeles, but over the years, I’ve developed a strange fondness for them. If it had become a show, it would have been interesting to see if these actors grew up around their characters. Of course, if it had become a show, we probably never would have made it. Warmso things finally worked out for the better.

Today, watching removal from Los Angeles remains a strange experience. Like a broadcast from an alternate reality. The vast majority of TV movie scenes, at least on paper, come straight from the Warm – often textually. One of them is the cafe showdown, so if you’ve ever wanted to see what one of the most iconic scenes in movie history would look like with two of the most iconic actors in movie history with, well, two other guys, now’s your chance. Much of the dialogue is the same. And since the set is still of two men sitting opposite each other in a restaurant, many of the images are also the same – interspersing static over-the-shoulder shots. Despite their superficial similarities, the two scenes create a startling contrast. Put them side by side and you’ll see how it all comes to life magnificently. Warm. How it becomes endlessly fascinating and exciting thanks to De Niro and Pacino delivering these lines, inhabiting these men. Anyone studying acting would do well to compare these two scenes to understand exactly what an actor can bring to the job.

We often talk about characters who have inner lives. It’s not enough to just look great, read your lines well, or give good reaction shots. We need to be able to just to see you. We need to be able to look at you, even when you’re not doing much, and imagine what’s going on inside your head. This, for example, is what makes Pacino so compelling in Francis Ford Coppola’s work. The Godfather, in which your character’s reserve gradually turns into something terrifying. (That’s probably what made Paramount try to fire the then relatively unknown actor from the The Godfather; this kind of restriction was so foreign to Hollywood mega-productions at the time.) This is also what makes De Niro’s performance in Martin Scorsese’s film Cabby — a performance that is, on its surface, so silent and passive — so indelible. Great actors emit this sense of inner life, but they also hide mountains of emotion and information under the simplest of gestures. It all sounds like an abstract concept until you watch something like the cafe scene in its two different iterations and witness it actually happen – like an impossible magic trick you’ve only heard rumors about.

Inside removal from Los Angelesas in Warm, this is the first time the two men have come face to face. In fact, the incident is taken from a real-life event that Mann learned of from Chuck Adamson, a retired Chicago police investigator (and later writer and producer) who, sometime in the 1960s, found a man he was investigating, Neil McCauley. – a real Neil McCauley – and, not knowing what to do, took him out for coffee. Inside WarmOf course, the moment takes on even greater significance: This was Pacino and De Niro’s first on-screen meeting. By reproducing the iconography, Mann gives the scene an almost metaphysical edge. We know that it’s finally these two great cinematic figures together, so we find ourselves paying attention to every gesture, every look, every line of dialogue. This is not just a marketing ploy. It’s what the characters themselves are doing in the scene. They’re carefully watching each other, trying to gain an angle and learn more about what’s going on in their opponent’s head.

During your conversation at Warm (which takes place at the famous Kate Mantilini restaurant, now closed in Los Angeles), Hanna is closer to the table, aggressively watchful and chatty, while McCauley is calm, collected, distant. Pacino, however, brings to his sloppiness an almost pleading quality; he makes Hanna vulnerable and open. This is in part to disarm McCauley, to get the most out of him. But it is also, one suspects, because the detective realizes that the criminal sitting across from him is the only one who really understands him.

The two men’s energies are quite different at first, but gradually and subtly come together over the course of the conversation. His eyes keep wandering, but they always end up locking on others. Hanna lets out her emotions: “My life is a disaster zone… I have a wife. We’re passing each other on the slopes of a wedding (my third) because I spend all my time chasing guys like you around the block.” (Listen as Pacino changes the pace of his delivery mid-sentence. Changes like this throw the viewer off balance and force us to pay even more attention to his words and gestures. Nothing is predictable.) In doing so, he gets key information from McCauley: That he has a girlfriend. (“I have a wife.”) This will come in handy at the film’s climax, when Hanna sees McCauley’s girlfriend, Eady (Amy Brenneman), sitting alone in a car outside the hotel where her man just killed Waingro.

Then the two men exchange dreams: Hanna offers an elaborate one in which he is sitting at a banquet table with the dead victims of various murders he has had to investigate. McCauley, still incredibly tense, simply says this about his dream: “I have one I’m drowning in. And I have to wake myself up and start breathing or I will die in my sleep.” He says the dream is about time, but it’s also clearly about being constantly on the run. The terse speed with which De Niro delivers this line reflects his predicament – ​​it’s as if he’s already running out of time.

This also has greater resonance in the film. This scene is, in many ways, Neil McCauley’s undoing. His mantra, which he repeats here, was, “Don’t get attached to anything you’re not willing to let go of in 30 seconds if you feel the heat around the corner.” And still, here is the heat. Here’s Vincent Hanna, the cop who wants to take down Neil McCauley, literally sitting across the table drinking coffee. The smartest thing would be to use the bathroom and disappear forever. But no, McCauley sits there and tells Hanna about his dreams. Somewhere deep down he knows he shouldn’t; that’s why his body is so rigid, his delivery so clipped. And yet he does, because this man, he perceives, understands him. And while Neil and Vincent admit they won’t hesitate to shoot each other if they have to, the scene ends with a quick hint of smiles on their faces. There would be no other way. They need each other.

This, then, is what it means when a character has an inner life. The coffee scene in Warm it’s masterfully written, that’s for sure, and it’s a pivotal moment within the film’s structure. But this is also true for the scene in removal from Los Angeles — which has a fraction of the impact it has on Warm. Because once a scene like this is performed by actors like Pacino and De Niro (two actors we’ve watched, mesmerized, for decades), it explodes into something sublime and unforgettable.

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