Spoilers for the 1995 film Heat and minor spoilers for the set-up for Heat 2
When I first heard acclaimed director Michael Mann was going to be making his first novel a sequel to his iconic crime epic Heat, I actually dismissed it. Something about it seemed like a lazy cash grab, something Mann did over the lockdown to pass the time. But with an ice storm taking out power at mine for four days and the titular Heat 2 being announced as a film with Adam Driver in talks to lead, I figured maybe I’d give this book a shot. I’m sure as hell glad I did, Heat 2 is really, really good and has me not only jonesing to rewatch Heat, but has me actively hyped for the inevitable cinematic adaptation.
Bizarrely, Heat 2 is perhaps the worst name for the book, as it serves as both a sequel to the 1995 crime epic and as a prequel. The sequel part, which takes place between 1995 and 2000, follows Chris Shiherlis (played by Val Kilmer in the film) after the botched robbery in L.A. as he embeds himself into the criminal world in Ciudad del Este, on the tri-border between Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay before pivoting to Asia some years later. The prequel portion of the book, set in 1988, features two parallel stories, one with Robert Hanna (Al Pacino) and one with Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro) as they both operate weave through the criminal underbelly of Chicago. And before you ask, these two characters never meet in this book, but the guy supplying McCauley’s crew just happens to be supplying another outfit under Hanna’s scope. That outfit is led by the book’s main antagonist and he’s evil to the bone and a major problem for both Hanna and McCauley’s characters.
After a random prologue that retells the original movie in just a few pages (who’s going to read a book called Heat 2 without investigating the original Heat?), the story kicks into gear and gets into the immediate aftermath of the original film.
The prose initially threw me off guard, as it is written in the present tense and that’s not a writing style I’m particularly fond of. But I quickly realized this makes a lot of sense. When you watch a movie, you’re experiencing it in real-time and Michael Mann and his writing partner Meg Gardiner have tried to replicate that feeling in a book. The narrative is being presented to you as it happens, as opposed to being a re-telling of events and this actually helps with the immersion. Not only that but when the action starts popping, the kinetic energy is infectious and it gets really hard to put the book down.
What’s a particular joy to read though is the dialogue. Mann and Gardiner have successfully captured the particular speech patterns and vocabularies of the leads. Hanna is written to invoke Al Pacino playing Hanna, so his dialogue feels very frantic, with lots of thinking out loud and his vocabulary features a lot of stringing words together (whaddya want). This contrasts with McCauley’s cool and calculated dialogue. He says things very deliberately and methodically and it’s incredibly easy to picture both original actors playing the characters in your mind. It feels like dialogue from a Michael Mann movie.
Mann is also a stickler for detail. He describes everything without exhausting you with details. He’ll tell you the cross street of a particular diner, what drill is being used in a robber or what wire needs to be tinkered with to bypass the silent alarm. We know which song is playing on a radio in a given scene, placing us in the time period of the late 80s and 90s. Each location, from Chicago, Los Angeles and Ciudad del Este feels like a tangible place. In short, Mann and Gardiner have done their research and it shows. In terms of tone, Heat 2 feels like the natural successor to the original film, but also pulls in elements that were found in Mann’s Miami Vice film, chiefly the scenes that take place in South America. Ciudad del Este is a melting pot of culture and crime and Mann dives into the many layers and rules of how such a crime-ridden city operates so openly. And just like Heat, the novel manages to balance tension, character and intense action that feels grounded and visceral.
So how should they go about adapting this beast of a novel? Since the original actors are too old or unwell to reprise their roles, casting is in order. I think the best thing to do is to reshoot a scene shot for shot, likely aspects of the airport scene from the original film with the new faces. We already know Adam Driver is in talks to take over the McCauley character, so let’s have fun theorizing who else could join the cast. I think Chris Hemsworth, who already worked with Mann on his flop Blackhat, would be an easy shoo-in for Val Kilmer, while Austin Butler or Timothee Chalamet could fill Pacino’s shoes while John Ortiz could play original characters Paolo, Ana de Armas as Ana (ironically) and Eiza González could play Elisa (I swear I’m not just picking based off their names).
Despite an uninspired title and a bland opening, Heat 2 is fantastic. I can’t wait to see the cinematic adaptation of this novel, but if you can’t wait for that, I strongly recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the original film. This is not a quick cash grab novel, but a wholly engrossing and thriller crime epic. Strong recommend.