Village Voice 05.10.2017 : Page 40

42 May 10 -May 16, 2017 Crime in Counterpoint Michael Mann on Heat , his restored masterpiece M BY BILGE EBIRI ichael Mann’s 1995 master-piece, Heat , comes out this week in a brand-new, fully loaded, beautiful Blu-ray edition. To further explore what makes this epochal crime drama so special, I recently talked to the director. The story of Heat was based on real-life personalities. There was a real thief named Neil McCauley, and Al Pacino’s Vincent Hanna was based on legendary Chicago cop Charlie Adamson. How close are they to the real-life models? As for McCauley, what we borrowed from the actual Neil McCauley was his professionalism and the high regard that Charlie had for him. Charlie would speak of him in glowing terms. “This guy was terrific. What a professional! We were sit-ting in Wieboldt’s department store in Chicago, and we were inside the store when they were doing a burglary, going after the safe, which had a lot of cash in it. And one thing was out of place, and this guy walked away from months of preparation and investment!” Charlie admired that. The characters are also quite forth-right. They talk about how their minds work. Was that also true of the real-life people? like? What’s your life view? There was an overt and an ulterior mo-tive to Charlie doing that. The overt motive was that he was fascinated with McCauley because the guy was great at what he did. The contradiction, that McCauley would blow him out of his socks without thinking twice about it, isn’t really a contradiction. The ulterior motive was that Charlie un-derstood himself so well that he knew that his subconscious mind was picking up as-pects of McCauley that he may not even recognize at the time. He knew there might be a critical moment three months later in which he would have to make a snap deci-sion. “Do I go left or do I go right?” “What behavior can I predict this guy is likely to do?” He knew that, in those totally intui-tive decisions, what he knew about Mc-Cauley would be a deciding factor. So he always wanted to accrue more informa-tion, get more in contact with him. This idea of predictive behavior — both the cops and the crooks in the film try to know as much as possible about everyone so that they can predict their next move — isn’t this a reflection of what actors and filmmakers do? Aren’t you essentially trying to predict how a character would act in these circum-stances that you’ve created? VILLAGE then those activities have consequences and leave behind certain effects. But a detective works all the way at the other end. He sees the remains of a crime — the leavings. He starts to work back-wards to what happened. What was the activity? And if this was the activity, what could I discover about the motivations of the person whose identity I do not know? And how can those motivations allow me to predict his future activity, so that I can intercept him and find out who he is? So, if you’re a detective and there’s a burglary of, I dunno, a retail fur store — this is a simplistic example — then you know that the motive of the thief is probably cash ‘Detectives do what writers and directors do, in the inverse’ money. That means he’ll have to fence the furs. You can predict his behavior, and you start working fencers who fence furs. You work backwards. The process, even though it’s an inversion, is very similar. You fill out the emotional lives of all these characters — not just the main two guys. Were you at all concerned at the time about how expansive the film was? Hanna is fairly close to a combination of Charlie Adamson and a couple of other law enforcement people I’d known who were primarily hunters. Guys who, if you really asked them, “You have to tell me what mo-tivates you, and you’re only allowed to say one thing,” their answer would not be “To serve and protect.” They have a moral compass, but that’s not the single motivat-ing engine. It has something to do with being at the tip of the spear. They’re preda-tors, and the more difficult the target, the more they’re attracted to it. Typically, they’re very self-aware. And that’s Hanna. De Niro and Kilmer bringing the...well, you know what they’re bringing. Yes. Charlie’s partner was Dennis Fa-rina, who was a detective in Chicago when I first met him during Thief . They lived a very aggressive life, and Charlie was very forthcoming. When he had contact with Neil McCauley, he looked forward to hav-ing a dialogue. And he’d be very flattering, because he wanted Neil to be forthcom-ing. They’d have personal conversations: Do you have a woman? What’s your life I’ve got a theory, which probably holds no water whatsoever, about why there’s so much genre content in media — mean-ing police stories, crime stories, so much of that. It’s because of the nature of the medium. Detectives detecting do what writers and directors do in the inverse: We have an idea for a character, and our character has origins that we invent. Those origins become an engine that causes him to do certain activities, and express himself, and have different atti-tudes based on who the character is. And Not at all. That was my central ambi-tion. I didn’t set out to do a genre piece that would conform to a set type. It’s not a cops-and-robbers film. To me, it’s human drama, period. And it’s a very ambitious film, but in its ambition it was to be two things. One was kind of a counterpoint: Could I pull off a very contrapuntal film in which there are really only two protag-onists? The second was that I wanted to dimensionalize everybody — that every-body should have a life. In the case of the two protagonists, Hanna and Neil McCauley, I separated them out because each is an engine that drives the thesis and the antithesis into the ending. I decided that only those two would be totally self-aware. That’s why they have a unique rapport. And the ambition behind this was: Can I have a drama in which, at the same time, we’re one hundred percent invested in Neil Mc-Cauley getting away, and we’re also one hundred percent invested in Hanna’s in-tercepting him? We don’t want the inter-ception to occur, and yet we’re thrilled about the potential of it occurring. But they really are two different people. McCauley was state-raised, angry and aggressive. And an autodidact in prison where — working on his body and his mind — he developed real discipline. And that’s his doctrine now: distance, no associations that can increase the risk of apprehension, with the plan to delay the emotional life he so desires — the Technicolor/Fiji ideal — till after he’s scored and splits. A 4K restoration of Michael Mann’s Heat is now available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox. 20th Century Fox

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