It ends the only way it can end, with two of the toughest men in Los Angeles holding hands as one of them bleeds out on the periphery of LAX’s tarmac. For the greater part of two and a half hours, we’ve watched Neil McCauley — mastermind of heists and bank robberies — and Vincent Hanna — lieutenant in the LAPD’s Major Crimes Unit — circle one another, chase each other, and calmly converse over a cup of coffee. Now, however, these apex predators of the urban jungle have reached their endgame, and this cop and this criminal share one final moment together before McCauley shuffles off this mortal coil. The fact that they are played by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino only sweetens the deal.
This is where we leave the twin anti-heroes of Heat, Michael Mann’s epic 1995 crime thriller, right before the final credits roll. It’s the perfect fade-out of a film devoted to the sort of game-recognizes-game professionalism and Zen machismo that the writer-director traffics in, taken from a true story (told to Mann by Chicago detective Chuck Adamson, who took down the real McCauley) and steeped in a sense of authenticity regarding what these men do and who they are — as if, in Mann’s universe, there is any difference between the two. “McCauley is passing out of existence, [while] in contact with the only other person who truly understands him,” the filmmaker says, nodding to himself as he recalls the image over a Zoom call. “And ironically, that’s also the person who killed him.
“It’s the last moment of Heat,” Mann adds. “But it’s really the first moment of Heat. It’s when that ending occurred to me that I thought, ‘Ok, I could make this movie.'”
The rest is … well, you know. Yet neither Heat‘s canonization as a modern crime-cinema classic nor the rabid cult fandom that still revolves around the film suggested that a sequel would ever be a consideration. Where do you go when one of your main players is permanently knocked off the chessboard? Still, the characters and their blue-hued SoCal netherworld never completely exited Mann’s imagination. He knew everything about Neil and Vincent and their respective crews, having written extensive back stories for these fictional men prior to calling “Action.” He could tell you exactly how they grew up, which prisons they did time in, how they met, where their apprenticeships in law enforcement or high-stakes thievery took place. Even when the director went off to tell other stories of stoic killers on the mean streets of Los Angeles (Collateral) or about law-enforcement officers pushed to the brink (Miami Vice), he never fully gave up on the idea of possibly returning to Heat‘s cops and robbers one day. He might explore their early days, long before that bank job turned downtown L.A. into a war zone. Or he could fast-forward to what happened after Vincent and Neil had their last goodbye.
Or maybe, he’d simply do both. Heat 2, the long-awaited follow-up to Mann’s most popular movie, picks up right after that fatal encounter next to the airport’s runway, following Vincent Hanna as he ties up loose ends and Val Kilmer’s character — Chris Shiherlis, the last surviving member of McCauley’s tight-knit gang — as he tries to stay one step ahead of the law. But it also rewinds back to 1988, when Chris first met his future wife Charlene (played by Ashley Judd in the original) and Neil & Co. crossed paths with another gang of crooks in Chicago, led by a psychopathic rapist being pursued by a Windy City detective who happens to be — wait for it — Hanna. And, just for good measure, it takes us into the dawn of the 21st century, at the exact moment that crime is morphing from regional scores into something more complicated and trans-national.
It’s a genuinely exhilarating expansion of the movie’s world, complete with detours through Mexico, Paraguay, Vietnam and Las Vegas, and some truly jaw-dropping, bullet-filled set pieces, notably a siege on a cartel-run motel south of the border. It’s also not a movie, at least not yet: Mann cowrote Heat 2 as a novel, alongside veteran crime writer Meg Gardiner. (It hits book shelves and is available for purchase online on August 9th.) Asked if there was something that suddenly sparked him returning to these characters almost 30 years after the film’s release, his reply is: “No. Because they I never really left them, and they really never left me.”
And as for Heat 2 being a novel? “I started out as an English lit major [in college],” Mann explains. “I thought I wanted to be a writer at one point, before I discovered I wanted to make films. But really, what I do…it’s all writing. Whether I’m writing with a camera, or with the performances of actors, or words, or whatever — it’s all authoring. And a novel presented a big canvas for me to do this.”
In other words, the page allowed him to go where he wanted, and write, say, “a massive firefight breaks out” without worrying about how much it would cost to film it? “Exactly. With a movie, you only have two hours to make it engaging and impact an audience. With a book, you can go into certain tangents that have to do with developing the characters, and move forward and backward in time in different ways. It was, ‘Why be modest?’ I didn’t have to be modest this way. And the scale and ambition of it was what was so valuable to me about it.”
Indeed, Heat 2 is nothing if not ambitious, with almost 500 pages of intersecting narratives, a trio of timelines, locations spread out across the globe and a large cast of characters. Mann knew the story — or rather, stories, plural — he wanted to tell, but felt like he needed a collaborator on this. Through his literary agent, Shane Salerno, he was introduced to Meg Gardiner, an accomplished novelist best know for her “Evan Delaney” series. Mann had read her 2017 book Unsub, about a female detective chasing a serial killer; she was a huge fan of his work, Heat in particular. “And I’d always wanted to write a heist novel,” Gardiner says, calling from her home in Austin, Texas. “What better chance to do that then with these characters, in that world?!”
A phone call was arranged, during which Mann and Gardiner talked for several hours about where he wanted to take Neil, Vincent and Chris, why making it both a prequel and a sequel was vital, and how he felt they could expand the world of Heat. “It goes without saying that Michael is a very accomplished writer,” Gardiner notes. “All his work until now had been screenplays and teleplays, however, so he was moving into a new arena, and I think he wanted to work with an experienced novelist on this — specifically, a crime novelist. He already had the arc of the story, though. I think he’d been thinking about this for decades.”
Once she was on board, Mann began sending Gardiner much of the research he had gathered when he’d started putting together the original 1995 film. “I wanted to bring her into the Heat universe — because it really is a universe,” he says. “I had saved everything, so all the materials I had gathered on Neil McCauley, that I’d given Bobby [De Niro] to bring him into character, and all the stuff on Vincent I had for Al, and the Chris stuff I had for Val Kilmer, all of that work we did … a lot of it was transcribed or on video. So I kind of dropped Meg into the deep end of the pool with that stuff.”
Gardiner started deep-diving into the older material while Mann began gathering information for what would become the year 2000 sections, in which Chris and his literal partner in crime, a Chinese woman named Ana Liu, began setting up an independent network to move international contraband through strictly digital means. Then they would begin hashing out different parts of the book, communicating by email and sending Word documents back and forth while he was in Japan working on Tokyo Vice and Gardiner was in Austin. Mann compares it to the way that he and his longtime friend, screenwriter Eric Roth, worked on projects like The Insider and Ali.
“It’s complimentary,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘You write the even-numbered words and I’ll write the odd-numbered words.’ I do a lot of the heavy structural work in terms of the story and how we ‘re going to tell it strategically, then we’d write up alternating chapters and trade them. I’d be stuck on something and say, ‘Look, I’ve been on these three pages for two days now. Can you take a crack at this?’ And vice versa.”
“By the time we were finishing up, we weren’t just alternating chapters,” Gardiner says. “We were on the phone several times a day, going, ‘Hey, can you take this scene? And can you take that scene? Here are two paragraphs, what do you think?’ There were also times when he’d be like, ‘I wanna finish this passage I’m working on today — can you look up major thoracic injuries and what the recovery time is for that?’ Or, you know: ‘How does a Marine platoon carry out an ambush?’ ‘Who can we talk to about GPS spoofing?’
“Also, let’s just say Michael is known for the amount of research he does, and that legend is accurate,” she adds, laughing. “I spent a couple of hours on the phone with a bank robber, to find out how one would legitimately pull off a ‘tunnel job.’ There’s a scene in the book where a character is climbing up a rope ladder on the side of a ship that’s at sea. I said to Michael, ‘I want this to feel real when I’m writing it, and having some trouble getting it right…’ And his reply was, ‘Hold on, I’ll send you some photos of me actually doing it.'”
After a year of working remotely, Gardiner was able to finally go to Los Angeles in the summer of 2021 and meet up with Mann. “I got my face-to-face meeting,” she says. “I got my own Vincent-Neil coffee-shop scene with him!” While they were there, Mann introduced Gardiner up to a professional criminal who’d been an advisor on his 2009 Dillinger film Public Enemies and arranged for her to do some late-night ride-alongs with two LAPD sergeants “through some of not-so-shiny neighborhoods.” That experience greatly informed their revisions, she says, especially the novel’s final section, which brings many of the main characters back to the City of Angels for one last climactic shoot-out. It’s a great reminder that, like the movie, this a story about those who live and die in L.A.
And yet Heat 2 is very much what Mann himself describes as “a global version of Heat,” and expands that original two-sides-of-the-same-coin notion into something far wider in scope while still keeping that sense of meticulous detail. “If you asked Chris Shiherlis, ‘What were you doing with Neil McCauley in 1995,” he’d tell you they were the best at what they did — which was really just being 19th century bandidos,” Mann says. “By the end of the book, he’s in an entirely new world. And he’s proven he can be an innovator in that world.”
Which begs the obvious question: Are we eventually going to get to see that world onscreen? Mann chuckles, then gestures around the room he’s Zooming in from. “I’m concentrating on this right now,” referencing his apartment in Modena, Italy, where he’s about to start shooting Ferrari, a drama about the sports-car magnate Enzo Ferrari starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz. “But I’d love to make a Heat 2 movie, definitely.”
So there are plans to make a movie of the book, then?
Mann pauses, weighing what he wants to say. “There are plans … but I can’t talk about them,” he finally admits. “But if we do it, we’re going to do it big.“