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Heat 2 Offers Thrilling Sequel to Classic Michael Mann Film

If Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece “Heat” was a cat-and-mouse game, the novel sequel to it is the whole damn farm. Aware that he’s not restricted by elements like budget or runtime, Mann and co-writer Meg Gardiner cram their already-bestselling Heat 2 with so many characters, subplots, and settings that it sometimes struggles to hold together under the weight of it all. It’s interesting to see such a lean, taut film universe literally explode into stories of multiple crime squads across two entirely different time periods. And, while it can get bulky, there are multiple sequences that are so vividly rendered through prose that one can picture how Mann would (and maybe will) film them someday. 

Once again, Mann unpacks the criminal underworld, examining how connections influence behavior on both sides of the law. This is not just a story of men who are willing to leave everything behind if they feel the heat around the corner, it’s about how these same men have an almost animalistic sense of one another, able to predict behavior and see through bullshit in ways most people cannot. It can be overwhelming, and hinges on a new character that connects its timelines in a way that might be too much for some people's suspension of disbelief, but there’s such energy and passion in Mann’s and Gardiner’s storytelling that the novel’s structural flaws and contrivances can be forgiven.

The first few pages of Heat 2 serve as a recap of the film, which I highly recommend revisiting before reading, not only because it’s a masterpiece but because it will enhance your understanding of these characters before returning to them. At the end of “Heat,” most of the crew of Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) was dead. Neil himself was shot by Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), holding the detective’s hand as his life left his body. The only real person to escape the action of “Heat” was Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), and one of the timelines of Heat 2 centers Chris as he first tries to escape Los Angeles and later gets into trouble in Paraguay. The other goes back in time, visiting Chicago in 1988, where Hanna investigates a series of horrific home invasions that, believe it or not, have a tie to McCauley & Shiherlis, who are in the Windy City on a job of their own, and when Chris first meets and woos Charlene (Ashley Judd).

The flashback timeline of Heat 2 hums with vicious intensity. Mann and Gardiner describe the home invasions with terrifying detail and feel like they’re embracing Pacino’s take on Hanna. (He encounters one of the home invaders with a “Surprise, motherf**kers!” and one can picture mid-‘90s Pacino shouting the line.) The Hanna of “Heat” is a little world-wearier than this one, meaning a character who was already intense is even more so in flashback. One of the biggest problems of an adaptation of this novel, which Mann reportedly wants to make, will be finding a modern actor with that ‘80s Pacino fearlessness.

However, Hanna is only a small part of Heat 2. After a breakneck first-third of the novel that takes place largely in Chicago, the epic novel shifts gears into South America, centering the melancholic Chris, pining over his lost family and trying to find a way home again. If the flashbacks of Heat 2 have the energy of the original film, the other half of the novel feels more like “Thief,” a tale of someone aware that his best days may be behind him but who is too much of a shark to stop swimming.

All of this expansive narrative unfolds with the precision that readers might expect from a craftsman like Mann. The best chunks of Heat 2 are lean and mean, propelled with brief, punchy sentences that somehow convey more mood and detail than entire paragraphs from lesser crime writers. Mann’s gift for macho detail loses nothing from screen to page—of course, Chris is listening to Bon Jovi while driving Charlene out of Las Vegas; probably “Wanted Dead or Alive,” right? There are so many times when Heat 2 evokes that hyper-masculine, stylish, strikingly beautiful visual aesthetic that Mann has created on film that it’s a must-read for fans of his work just to watch the lost film that it conjures in your mind.

It may not be lost for long. Mann has already said that he plans to make Heat 2 into a film, and recasting Pacino, De Niro, and Kilmer will be only one of the problems. This book plays more like a TV series or trilogy of films than a standalone feature. It’s hard to see how he could wrangle all of these characters and timelines into one coherent movie. Although Mann has been building out the back stories for these people for decades—the book reportedly comes from that process on the original film—so maybe he knows how to pick and choose what parts of Heat 2 to adapt, leaving the rest just for fans of the novel. I can’t wait to find out.

 

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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