The Academy of Motion Pictures recently hosted a special event screening of Michael Mann’s HEAT at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Put on the spot by super fan Christopher Nolan, Mann and cast quietly accept praise and attempt to answer the Brit’s deep dive inquisition. Q&A Events can squirm in any number of directions, but as seen in the six videos uploaded to The Academy’s YouTube channel, Mann’s crew quickly turns from sheepish to informative. Mann refuses to discuss the film in terms of genre, casting off comparisons to Noir by focusing on the real life Chicago cops and robbers that inspired his screenplay.
When Christopher Nolan asks Robert De Niro and Al Pacino just how they balanced their iconic presence with the “sincerity of the interior process,” De Niro wryly turns to Pacino and chuckles, “You first.” Pacino plays to the crowd, “I’ve worked with him [Nolan] before, so I think I can answer this…I think I get it.” Pacino attempts to navigate the heady question, and swiftly converts his answer into an anecdote about Lt. Vincent Hanna’s motivations. Pacino explains, “My character’s situation is different than his [De Niro]. My life is falling apart, and his is just starting. That was a key for me anyway…I don’t know if I’ve ever said it…the character I played is a guy who chips cocaine…I’ve always wanted to say that, just so you know where some of the behavior is coming from.” That might explain his understanding of the importance of big asses and where to stick your head during junk yard interrogations.
Given some time to contemplate, Robert De Niro describes the experience of working with taskmaster Michael Mann, “The thing about Michael is that he creates a tension in the whole approach of the film, even in the training…it kinda affects you where you know every moment is, I don’t want to say precious, but kinda important. It creates a tautness.” As Mann expounds on the execution of the climactic coffee shop showdown, De Niro practically rolls his eyes when reliving the 11th take that the audience eventually saw on screen. Good co-workers breaking down the method to one of modern cinema’s most watchable moments.
When Nolan lauds praise on the long lens beauty of the film, labeling HEAT as “stylish without being self conscious,” it opens a window for cinematographer Dante Spinotti to provoke a little controversy. Spinotti tells the 35mm obsessed Nolan that “The movie is better because of the transition to digital 4K technology…it has been done extremely well…total control of the colors and information on the shadows, that you have or you don’t.” Spinotti goes on to conclude that without the aide of the computer, the film would simply not be as memorable. “The whole final scene at the airport, because you can make the faces softer and bring the noise down, and reveal what’s in the far background, and in a number of other situations, to me makes the film better.” Spinotti revels in the technology, capturing L.A.’s intoxicating sea of neon through post-production manipulation as well as what was caught on location.
HEAT is an undeniable masterpiece of cat and mouse suspense, of performance and motivation, and of confident execution. It’s a film that audiences will revisit for decades, and fellow craftsman will delightfully cannibalize for their own stunning achievements yet to come. Any opportunity to sit down with its creators is a special one, and fanboy Christopher Nolan managed to mine some colorful material for The Academy.