Published on August 22nd, 2022 | by Blake Morrow0
It’s not perfect, but the novel, Heat 2, by Michael Mann, does a great job of revisiting the world he created in his 1995 film.
In 1995 Neil McCauley and his lethal crew of criminals blasted their way through the cool blue streets of L.A. in search of their next big score. Leaving bloody carnage and existential despair in their wake, Lieutenant Vincent Hanna and his boys in blue took up the challenge to try and take them down. Heat is widely regarded as one of the greatest heist films ever and now director Michael Mann has turned into an author. With the help of co-writer Meg Gardiner, Heat 2 is the prequel/sequel that’s just hit bookshelves. Encompassing the years both before and after the events of the film, Heat 2 is a sprawling epic that takes Hanna, McCauley, and the crew beyond the West Coast and into even darker corners of the criminal underworld.
It goes without saying that watching the film before reading the book is an absolute must for multiple reasons, with probably the greatest reason being to understand the cinematic stylings of the prose. Heat is a mood film told by the dazzling lights of L.A.’s night. Heat 2 is equally enamored with the atmospheric potential of the “fiery embers of sunset,” the “moonglow” in the sky, and the “flat constellation” of city lights that stretches on forever. It makes excellent use of its locales with cities that feel dense and lived in, spaces that are gritty and real. The architecture is alive. Coupled with copious references to heavy sounds that call to mind the original synth score, it’s easy to get swept away and forget you’re reading a Michael Mann book and not watching a Michael Mann movie.
It’s also impossible to read about Vincent Hanna, Neil McCauley, and Chris Shiherlis without imagining Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Val Kilmer running wild. I especially loved Vincent Hanna’s chaotic Pacino-isms every time they popped off the page. Although the original characters are as cool as ever, some of the newer characters made an unfavorable impression. In particular, I found a mother-daughter duo and Heat 2’s version of Waingro to be especially tiresome. Like its predecessor there are several heists throughout the book, fascinating both because of the preparation before each job and because of each score’s execution, whether it went well or not. The prose has a rapid-fire quality that shines through in these frantic action sequences that more than live up to the movie.
Despite all of that goodness, the additions Heat 2 made to the universe’s lore had a decidedly hit-or-miss quality. I’m not a fan of prequels feeling the need to explain every single aspect of a character’s backstory. Michael Mann, however, is a repeat offender in this regard. Do I really need to know why Han’s last name is Solo? Do I really need to know why Neil has fun facts about Fiji’s iridescent algae? Multiple monologues and recollections of childhood circumstances felt like the clunky exposition dumps they were. The tight-lipped interiority of the crew was a big reason why Heat was so fricking cool. Neil’s crew were suave, meticulous, barely controlled violence thrumming underneath a calm demeanor. Not every pre-’95 thread is so jarring but Neil’s in particular was a letdown that threatened to undermine the mystique he has.
I was much more comfortable with story directions Mann took in the years following the events of Heat. Expanding beyond a world of heists into a tangled web of organized crime felt fresh and, for me, was a completely organic evolution of the source material. With a cast spread across the globe, separated not only by physical distance but by the temporal distance of many years, there were some truly cosmic coincidences that happened to bring everyone together. It stretched the plausibility to the max for me. Thankfully, however convenient some of the plot developments were I was more than happy to forgive and forget once the bullets started to fly.
Let’s face it – nothing can beat Pacino vs. De Niro – Cop vs. Robber. The original Heat distilled the crime genre to its purest form with two oppositional forces clashing at the height of their powers. The fatalistic bond between the two is what made the original film so compelling and the absence of that link is what lowers Heat 2 to a much more standard crime saga. Even if it can’t measure up to the original, the true achievement of the book is that it’s so easy to picture Pacino, De Niro, and co. wreaking havoc in a visually extravagant Michael Mann wonderland. If there isn’t going to be a movie, this book is as good as it’ll get and it comes damn close to evoking what makes Heat great.