Heat is one of the great heist movies of all time. It brings with it most of the elements of the classics: the precise preparation, the recruiting of the crew, the betrayal, the execution of the heist and of course the inevitable cruel twists of indifferent fate that define the noir genre. But Michael Mann built Heat adding his own takes. Mann’s films define themselves by professionalism, his characters are men who define themselves by what they do. And there are often parallels: in Manhunter, for example, Will Graham and Hannibal Lektor are defined by the ways they act on what is a shared ability to inhabit the minds of sociopaths. In Heat, cop Vince Hanna and thief Neil McCauley are both professionals whose obsession with the job overpowers their relationships with women. There is no femme fatale/black widow in Heat (like Marie Windsor, say, in Kubrick’s The Killing) because there is no place for one. Instead there is the remarkable face to face between Hanna and McCauley, where we see two sides of the same obsessive coin. And of course Heat adds one of the greatest shootouts in film history.
It is, in part, that shootout and Hanna’s second and final confrontation with McCauley which made the idea of a follow-up movie to Heat so difficult. The biggest constraint, of course, is that actors age, making a prequel doubly difficult. You could use CGI as Scorsese tried in The Irishman, but though Robert DeNiro’s face may look younger, he still looks like a pensioner when he’s launching creaky kicks into the grocery story owner he beats up on behalf of his daughter. Age applies to a sequel as well, along with the idea that only Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) survives the shootout, and he’s forced to disappear from his wife Charlene and son Dominic.
But both these avenues are available via the written word, and that’s what Mann and co-writer Meg Gardiner have created, and done brilliantly, in Heat 2. It’s both a prequel and a sequel, in which motivations are explained, and characters are filled in, and, in the case of Chris, extended. It’s also a thrilling read, one that propels the reader along multiple tracks simultaneously. It is indeed difficult to put down.
The book opens in 1995, recapping the robbery of the Far East National Bank, then moving on to Chris’ escape from LA and, indeed, America. We then go back to 1988, stopping briefly in Las Vegas where Chris meets Charlene, and then in Chicago, where he joins up with McCauley’s crew planning a big heist from…