De Niro plays a professional burglar who is a calm and methodical introvert, while Pacino plays a veteran LAPD homicide detective whose devotion to his job causes him to neglect his personal problems. The central conflict of the film was based on the experiences of former Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson and his pursuit of a criminal named McCauley in the 1960s, from which the name of De Niro's character, Neil McCauley, was derived.
The film is technically a remake of L.A. Takedown, a 1989 made-for-television film which was also written and directed by Mann; Mann had been trying to get Heat made for over a decade, and created L.A Takedown as a simplified version after his efforts were unsuccessful. Despite not receiving any Academy Award nominations, Heat was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $187 million worldwide.
McCauley, Shiherlis, Cheritto, and Trejo carry out a carefully planned armored car heist, stealing US$1.6 million in bearer bonds from Malibu Equity Investments, a shell company run by Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) that launders drug money through offshore bank accounts. The robbery is complicated by new member Waingro (Kevin Gage) impulsively murdering a guard, forcing the team to execute the remaining guards—potential witnesses—and escape. After the robbery, McCauley meets with his fence, Nate (Jon Voight), who suggests selling the bonds back to Van Zant for 60% of their value instead of laundering them at 60% cost; since the bonds were insured for 100% of their value, Van Zant would make 40% of 1.6 million above his bond insurance while McCauley and his team would gain an additional 20% on top of their expected take.
Later, McCauley and his crew meet at a diner to discuss dividing the money from the robbery. Enraged about the robbery — which Waingro has escalated to a capital murder — McCauley and his crew attempt to kill Waingro, but when a passing police car distracts them, Waingro escapes. Meanwhile, Van Zant agrees to buy the bonds back, but instructs his men to ambush McCauley at the meeting and take the bonds back. With help from his crew, McCauley escapes the ambush and vows revenge.
Investigating the armored car heist, Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) of the elite LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division learns through informants and surveillance that McCauley and his crew are planning to rob a precious metals warehouse. Hiding inside a parked truck, Hanna and his team stake out the warehouse and prepare to arrest McCauley and his crew, but a restless SWAT team member clumsily bumps the side of the truck, alerting McCauley to the stakeout. McCauley warns his crew, and they abandon the robbery. Realizing he cannot arrest the crew for robbery unless they have stolen the metals, Hanna allows them to escape.
McCauley meets with his crew and warns them of the surveillance, and tells them they must decide if their next robbery — a bank holdup with an estimated $12 million payoff, which would allow McCauley to retire — is worth the risk. Each crew member agrees to the robbery, and the investigation and subsequent planning highlight how each character's commitment to his profession has severely damaged his personal life: Hanna's third marriage to wife Justine (Diane Venora) is in the early stages of a breakdown, due to his grueling work schedule and troubled stepdaughter Lauren (Natalie Portman), Justine's child from a previous marriage; Shiherlis' relationship with his wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) is hampered by his crippling gambling addiction, pushing her into an extramarital affair. Only McCauley, who lives a solitary existence that forbids attachments and stresses mobility, finds his life renewed from a budding relationship with Eady (Amy Brenneman), a kind, naïve graphic designer who believes him to be a metal salesman.
Hanna deliberately intercepts McCauley and invites him to coffee at a local diner. During their tense meeting, the two professionals examine each other; despite their positive impressions, each reveals that, if necessary, they would not hesitate to kill the other if the situation demands it. Meanwhile, Waingro approaches Van Zant and offers Van Zant a way to get rid of McCauley. Waingro tortures Trejo and his wife into revealing information about McCauley's planned robbery, which Van Zant then leaks to the police.
The robbery already in progress, Hanna and his team (augmented by uniformed police officers) arrive at the bank, surprising McCauley and his crew as they are leaving. A fierce, savage gunfight breaks out in downtown L.A., the robbers blasting their way past police blockades in a bid for freedom. Cherrito and getaway driver Donald Breeden (Dennis Haysbert) are killed in the shootout; on the other side, police officers are taking even more heavy loses when Neil McCauley's group kill almost all police officers taking part of operaton including Bosko (Ted Levine), one of Hanna's squad. McCauley and most of his team escapes, and takes a wounded Shiherlis to a doctor.
Realizing he has been betrayed, McCauley visits Trejo's house and finds Trejo near death and his wife dead. With his last breaths, Trejo reveals that Waingro and Van Zant leaked news of the robbery to the police. McCauley euthanizes the dying Trejo and drives to Van Zant's house, where he demands to know Waingro's whereabouts. Van Zant refuses to tell him, and McCauley shoots him dead.
Learning about Van Zant's death, Hanna realizes that McCauley will next seek revenge against Waingro, now hiding in a hotel room under a false name and monitored by police, and orders his team to spread information about Waingro's location to bait McCauley. Meanwhile, the police move Charlene Shiherlis and her son Dominic to a safe house where Sgt. Drucker (Mykelti Williamson) explains that Charlene will be charged as an accessory to her husband's crime and relocate her son to a foster home if she doesn't surrender Chris to the police. Chris appears hours later with an altered appearance to disguise his identity. Despite their marital problems, Charlene surreptitiously warns him about the police presence, the two sharing one last emotional look before Chris returns to his car and inconspicuously departs.
McCauley returns to Eady and breaks his longstanding creed, compelling her to flee with him to New Zealand. As he finalizes his plans, Nate reveals Waingro's whereabouts to McCauley. Confident with his escape plan, McCauley impulsively takes the bait and infiltrates the hotel, activating the fire alarm to vacate the hotel. With the hotel security and police distracted, McCauley barges in and kills Waingro before beginning his escape. Moments later, Hanna arrives at the hotel and from a distance observes Eady waiting in McCauley's car. As he approaches, McCauley emerges from the building and noticing Hanna, hesitantly defaults to his "thirty seconds" rule and abandons Eady, disappearing into the crowd with Hanna in pursuit. Following a tense cat-and-mouse chase in the darkness of the LAX freight terminal, McCauley nearly gets the drop on Hanna, but Hanna manages to shoot McCauley first, leaving him clinging to life in the fields of the adjoining runways. Knowing he has more in common with McCauley than anyone else in his life, Hanna moves to comfort his would-be killer. Together, the two share a final, quiet moment of reflection and understanding as McCauley dies.
- Al Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna
- Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley
- Val Kilmer as Chris Shiherlis
- Jon Voight as Nate
- Tom Sizemore as Michael Cheritto
- Diane Venora as Justine Hanna
- Amy Brenneman as Eady
- Ashley Judd as Charlene Shiherlis
- Mykelti Williamson as Sgt. Drucker
- Wes Studi as Det. Casals
- Ted Levine as Det. Bosko
- Dennis Haysbert as Donald Breedan
- William Fichtner as Roger Van Zant
- Natalie Portman as Lauren Gustafson
- Tom Noonan as Kelso
- Kevin Gage as Waingro
- Hank Azaria as Alan Marciano
- Danny Trejo as Trejo
- Henry Rollins as Hugh Benny
- Tone Lōc as Richard Torena
- Jeremy Piven as Dr. Bob
Heat was listed as the 38th greatest film in history in Empire magazine's 2008 list of the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time".
Effect on real crime
The explicit nature of several of the scenes in Heat were cited as the model of a spate of robberies since its release. This included armored car robberies in South Africa, Colombia, and Denmark and a bank robbery in North Hollywood, California.
A "bare bones" edition of Heat was released on DVD in 1999, which did not include any extra features. A two-disc special edition DVD was released in 2005, featuring an audio commentary by director Michael Mann, deleted scenes, and numerous documentaries detailing the production of the film. Warner has announced the Blu-ray Disc release of the film for 2009.
- This is the first film in history to star both Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together on screen, which caused so much hype from film fans. They both starred in The Godfather Part II but never shared any scenes together.
- Heat soundtrack
- "Michael Mann: Hot Again With 'L.A. Vice'" New York Times article "'an action film with an intellectual grip' (...) 'a genre movie with epic ambitions'"
- JUST BLAME THE HEAT
- Life imitates art in Colombia robbery
- 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out (TV, 2003). http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0362389/
- Heat at the Internet Movie Database
- Heat at All Movie Guide
- Heat, review at Metacritic
- Heat. Work and genre Jump Cut magazine, by J. A. Lindstrom, no. 43, July 2000, pp. 21–37
- De Niro and Pacino Star in a Film. Together, from New York Times
- http://www.imfdb.org/index.php?title=Heat, imfdb.org weapons identification page Heat.