Heat 2 Is a Fascinating Book. I Can’t Wait Until It’s a Movie

The director’s films are powerfully defined by look and style. So what does a Michael Mann novel look like, exactly?

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Al Pacino in Heat, 1995.Everett Collection Courtesy of Warner Brothers

I was close to 50 pages into Michael Mann’s Heat 2—the novel, co-written with novelist Meg Gardiner, that tells the story of the before and after Mann’s 1995 crime drama—when I realized what was missing.

First, I should say: “missing” might not be the right word. Heat 2 is a mini-doorstopper, at over 450 pages, and it couldn’t be more up my alley. I’ve been a Mann devotee since Miami Vice came out when I was four years old and for whatever reason I was allowed to watch it. I was a Mann boy and now I’m a Mann man, so to speak. I’ve been following his work for such a large chunk of my life that the way he shoots things—the look and the vibe of his work—has influenced many of my own stylistic choices. Mann was my gateway drug into so much: old neo-noir films that influenced his work, as well as films from other masters of highly-stylized crime dramas, from Abel Ferrara to John Woo. It’s not unlike following legends of hardboiled fiction Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to modern contemporaries like Walker Mosley, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman. And while Mann has served as a writer on his greatest crime films, I’ve been drawn to his stories because they’re as good looking as they are engaging. They are, to put it simply, fun and cool: Mann understands how to balance story with wild shootouts and great looks. Movies like Heat and Miami Vice appeal to me on multiple levels.

Heat 2 necessarily reimagines how a Michael Mann story works, since it’s all on the page. There are rumors that it might become something more, but for now the book feels like it’s filling a void more for the creator of the story than devotees like me. That’s to say: I was perfectly happy with the nearly three-hour film on its own, and was curious as much as I was stunned that Mann had more to add. But as soon as I started reading it I started to see why Mann wanted this to exist. The novel explains how the film’s heist gang, led by Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley, came together, in a sort of prequel. But we also get the sequel: the things that happened after the events of Heat. It’s two separate stories linked together with the movie. We get a glimpse into the early days of the gang, but also a deeper look into the life and mind of detective Vincent Hanna, played by Al Pacino in the film. 

But by the time I hit page 48 of Heat 2 and read, “Alexander Dalecki—Alex, to the woman snorting lines off the living room table—stands naked at the kitchen counter, pouring Johnnie Walker Black into two glasses,” I knew what felt different. That’s when it truly sunk in that I was reading a Michael Mann story—that I was going to have to change the way I look at his work entirely. I liked the challenge. I loved that even though I couldn’t see the table, I was pretty sure it was made of chrome, maybe with a leather couch nearby. And what sort of glasses were they drinking from? I imagine heavy crystal, some not-quite-Baccarat sort of thing. I didn’t want to know these things to nitpick, though. It’s a book! And a sick book, at that! It wouldn’t be fair to expect Mann and Gardiner to go full laundry-list on the clothing, furniture, cars, and accessories in their novel. It would probably make for a worse book. But the experience reminded me that Mann has always been a director obsessed with aesthetics and atmosphere. And while reading a Mann story is great, seeing and hearing it is a totally different experience.

Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer in Heat‘s iconic bank shootout scene.

Everett Collection Courtesy of Frank Connor for Warner Brothers

Each new Mann project shares a similar quality: it’s almost always simultaneously aesthetically of its time, but also way ahead of things. The whole idea for Miami Vice, for instance, can be summed up as “cop show plus MTV”: a formula tailor-made for its release in the ‘80s, but that, seen from today’s vantage point, seems the epitome of retro. There’s always this long strange gap, between when a Mann movie feels perfect and when it feels perfect again: being very closely tied to a specific time means you run the risk of feeling dated when that time has passed. I recall rewatching Miami Vice 20 years after it came out and thinking it looked so 1980; Heat similarly felt extremely ‘90s a decade after its release. And, somewhat tellingly, Mann’s 2006 film version of Miami Vice, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, was a box office success—but the critics weren’t as into it. One wrote, “Unlike the TV series, Miami Vice takes itself too seriously to be trashy—and too seriously to be much fun either,” while another felt, “It can look cool. But more often, as we wait for the lightning that never arrives, it frustrates.” At the time, people felt the movie was too post-9/11 gloomy and somber.

But the thing about Mann’s work is that, while it initially ages horribly, over the long run it matures into something spectacular. A decade and a half later years later, critics are writing about how Miami Vice went from “Misfire to Masterpiece,” quite possibly the only “cult favorite” I can think of that also happened to debut at number one and make $164 million at the box office. He has always had an eye (and an ear; the soundtracks are always top-notch) for details, the things that make scenes pop. All the blue light bouncing off of white marble or glass in Heat, the blinking lights of 1980s Chicago shining off of James Caan as he leans up against a beam in Thief, Don Johnson and Phillip Michael Thomas pulling up a Ferrari Daytona Spyder 365 GTS/4 to a phone booth under a neon sign as Phil Collins sings “In the Air Tonight.” These were all very specific choices and have left a lasting impact for a reason.

Heat 2 doesn’t have to contend with that. A film version might, but as a book that’s out in 2022 and set in both the late-1980s and mid-1990s, it’s basically Michael Mann historical fiction. That’s not something I ever thought I’d type, but given the opportunity, I wish there was even more of it now. It gave me a better understanding into how the creator of Heat saw an even bigger world, but also made me appreciate a guy whose work I’ve literally grown up on. That sort of thing doesn’t happen very often.

There are plenty of other directors who have great vision, who understand the style of a moment and how a certain song can truly capture the mood. But Mann’s whole thing is a trust in his own vision and an absolute belief that little details are a must. The guy seems to operate on a creative level not dissimilar from the one inhabited by some of the great fashion designers, who know that new seasons require new trends, but that good taste is timeless. Being able to turn that into a great story, whether Heat on the big screen or Heat 2 in a book, is a trick few besides Mann can pull off. There’s sex, violence, cool cars, bright lights, and a whole lot of grit. It all works together. When a character is at the Beverly Hilton—where “everything gleams,” including the “Lamborghini and the Bugatti parked outside the entrance, placed like ornaments,”—I kept thinking, Man, I can see that…in a Michael Mann movie. I want to see that in a Michael Mann movie. And if that doesn’t happen, then I’m happy I read it in a Michael Mann novel.

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