Why Michael Mann Doesn’t Consider Heat A ‘Crime Movie’

Michael Mann got the idea for “Heat” from Chicago cop Chuck Adamson, whose pursuit of professional thief Neil McCauley took a stranger-than-fiction turn when he bumped into his prey on the street. The story goes that Adamson didn’t know whether to arrest McCauley or post up with him at a local diner for a cup of coffee. Life is funny like that, but the outcome wasn’t much of a laugher: Some time later, Adamson shot McCauley dead during a botched robbery.

“Heat” is a romanticized expansion of the story. Mann maintains that the narrative exists outside of the crime genre because of its “character-driven dialectic.” He views the film in musical terms, as he described to IndieWire:

“Its plot is driven by a crime story and a police story to a certain point, and then it breaks into a kind of chorus. In that chorus, we see slices of these different people’s lives.”

Basically, Mann has composed a twisted oratorio vaunting the holy craft of policing and heisting. His protagonists have answered a calling; Hanna could only ever be a detective, while McCauley’s purpose on this planet was the orchestration and execution of a perfect robbery.

This is why “Heat” is Mann’s second-best film, and it will likely remain so. Life isn’t ordered or moral; you survive by a strict adherence to your code. McCauley falters by delaying his 30-second-flat departure to murder the psychopath Waingro (Kevin Gage), and holding on too tight to Eady (Amy Brenneman). Hanna compartmentalizes. He rescues his girlfriend’s daughter, but he does not lose the scent. He stays sharp … on the edge … where he’s gotta be.

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