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Why Michael Mann Found Shooting Heat's Bank Robbery 'Terrifying As Hell'

Director Michael Mann is currently in the process of adapting "Heat 2," his "Heat" sequel novel, into a feature film. Its story, notably, serves both as a prequel and a direct sequel to his landmark 1995 crime drama. Meanwhile, "Heat" itself is based on the true story of a cop in Chicago's attempt at apprehending a notorious thief. At the heart of the film is a large-scale bank robbery that its criminal protagonist Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) spearheads.

In a Vulture interview about the making of "Heat," Mann revealed that he found shooting this bank robbery scene to be a harrowing experience, principally due to its incorporation of simulated gunfire. At one point, he explained, he attempted to edit in artificial sound effects, but ultimately went with the sounds of guns firing blanks on set instead. "We shot with full-load blanks, meaning with full charges of gunpowder in them," he said. "And, that's the sound the weapons actually made and you couldn't imitate or improve upon them. It was terrifying as hell because we were in these glass and steel canyons and the gunfire reverberated in a certain real way, so they had an authenticity to the place that really was unique."

While the danger Mann felt might not precisely mimic cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino)'s in-fiction bank robbery experience, the real terror on set that day lends the scene a unique sort of authenticity nevertheless.

Michael Mann is committed to authenticity

In a 2020 article on RogerEbert.com titled "Why Heat is the Greatest Heist Movie Ever Made," film critic Gerardo Valero describes the bank robbery in "Heat" as both the best and most influential scene of its kind. One likely reason no movie, at least in Valero's eyes, has since matched the spectacle of this big setpiece in "Heat" is that Michael Mann was uniquely committed to filming as real a simulacrum of a bank robbery as he could, evidenced in part by its incorporation of authentic gunshot noises.

Meg Gardiner, who co-wrote "Heat 2," revealed that even when writing a literary sequel to "Heat" with no visual component, Mann maintained this level of investment. "There's a scene in the book where a character is climbing up a rope ladder on the side of a ship that's at sea. I said to Michael, 'I want this to feel real when I'm writing it, and having some trouble getting it right...' And his reply was, 'Hold on, I'll send you some photos of me actually doing it,'" Gardiner told Rolling Stone.

If Mann is still capable of such intense devotion to his work, it's entirely possible that the nearest rival to "Heat" may well end up being the film adaptation of "Heat 2."