That’s been confirmed many times over the years of course. But thanks to the fact that in the film’s final cut, all their scenes are composed of interspersed close up shots, a curious urban legend has persisted holding that the two never actually met on set. Tonight however, during a special screening of Heat‘s new 4K remaster at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre followed by an entertaining Q&A with Pacino, De Niro, and Mann themselves, once again the record was set straight about the duo’s interactions in the classic film. Make a note, skeptics, that a photo of them sitting together hung for years on the wall of Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills where the scene was shot.
Moderated by Intersteller and The Dark Knight trilogy director Christopher Nolan (who himself made several nods to Heat in the opening sequence of 2008’s The Dark Knight), the discussion was joined later co-stars Amy Brenneman, Val Kilmer, Diane Venora, and Mykelti Williamson, along with producers Art Linson and Peter Jan Brugge, editor William Goldenberg, sound mixer Andy Nelson, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti.
Now, if you’ve been on IMDB, watched the home video special edition or caught the stray interview with Pacino, De Niro, or Mann, chances are you’ve already heard most of what was discussed tonight. But who cares, because for the first time in two decades, the three shared a stage to talk about the beloved film, shed some light on how it was made, and laugh together about the experience. The packed theater – beforehand, bent around a nearby parking lot, there was a long line of people hoping to get in – laughed right along with them. When, that is, they weren’t breaking out into spontaneous applause and more than one standing ovation for the film and its cast and crew.
Among the highlights: in explaining his famously over-the-top performance as LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna, Pacino confirmed something long known to those familiar the original script, that the character is a drug addict who “chips cocaine”. That detail was left out of the shoot but Pacino kept it in mind while performing as a way to explain his mannerisms and outbursts. “Just so you know,” he said tonight, “where some of the behavior comes from.”
Mann also recounted his inspiration for the film, the real life experiences of his friend, Chicago police detective Charlie Adamson, who in 1963 ended up killing criminal Neal McCauley (for whom De Niro’s character was named). McCauley and Adamson actually met before their later fatal encounter, having dinner together with a conversation that was reportedly very similar to the one Pacino and De Niro have in the famous scene. As Mann put it, “they had the kind of intimacy only strangers can have,” and just as easily were torn apart.
Also under discussion, the detailed backstories Mann devised for all of his characters – “Michael is the king of backstory” said Williamson tonight – as well as the intense work that went into creating the film’s intense realism. For instance, to prepare for the film’s climactic bank heist, De Niro and co-stars Val Kimer and Tom Sizemore cased a bank in Century City (with, it was made clear, permission of bank security), then were made to recount from memory the layout once they left.
Williamson told a story tonight I’d personally never heard before. It seems that when he was asked to meet with Mann and Pacino about taking the part of LAPD detective Drucker, he was told straight up by Pacino that “you got robbed” for not receiving an Oscar nomination for his work the year before in Forest Gump and that the snub was part of why they wanted him for the role.
As for the small number of scenes shared by the film’s two stars, Mann explained how the two playing off one another increased the subtlety of their performances. “If Bob is shifting his weight,” Mann said, “Al is doing something to counter,” almost, he explained, as if afraid De Niro might go for a gun. The diner scene in particular was also fairly raw, done at De Niro’s suggestion without any rehearsal before they set about filming it.
The Goldwyn Theater might not be the best equipped to demonstrate the full beauty of a 4K presentation (no shade intended – it was great but I had no basis to compare), but the new print looked fantastic, with eye popping detail that shines a bright light on the work of cinematographer Spinotti. A particular stand out is how the new print makes clear some of the technical achievements Mann and Spinotti employed to make the city of Los Angeles itself as much a character as the actors moving inside it. “L.A. is a weigh station on the way to somewhere else,” said Mann tonight about the way the city looks throughout Heat. One way that was achieved was to combine then-new computer effects to heighten the city’s iconic cityscape.
For example, in the scene in which De Niro’s McCauley and Brenneman’s Eady talk on a balcony overlooking Sunset plaza, Spinotti explained how the L.A. landscape seen in the shot was filmed on a very low framerate to increase exposure. Meanwhile, De Niro and Brenneman were filmed on location in front of a green screen blocking the actual view, which was added to the background of the shot in post. It’s unnoticeable in previous home video releases but in the new print, it makes L.A.’s nighttime view look like a surreal dream, or perhaps a nightmare. It adds to the sense, as it was said more than once tonight, of how all the film’s characters are in their own way imprisoned in Los Angeles.
Release from Fox Home Video is set for some time in 2017 (no word on whether there will be a theatrical re-release), which is to say audiences will have to wait a bit longer to judge for themselves how it looks. But if the reaction from the crowd tonight is any indication, it will be worth that wait.