Review: Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner hit a home run with ‘Heat 2’

“Heat 2” seemed like a dream when it was first announced. But did it come together as something to love and cherish like the original 1995 film? 

Writer/Director Michael Mann deciding to turn around and go back into the world of his 1995 classic, one that put Al Pacino and Robert De Niro on screen for the first time together as forces of nature on both sides of the law, was an intriguing premise at floor level. Making the choice to tell separate stories, ones that would still collide and cross over each other like a vast Los Angeles highway, in multiple story lines was where the genius level was being chased after.

Along with co-writer Meg Gardiner (a crime novel publishing boss lady), Mann hit the ball out of the park with his first novel, a tale that works as a massively detailed blueprint for a future film or television series (I so hope for the former). Go ahead and think about who could play a young Vincent Hanna, because Al Pacino is too old for either storyline. I did. You’ll do the same as Mann and Gardiner take on the younger, formative years of Hanna and Neal McCauley (played by De Niro in the film) that shows Neal and his crew starting to take bigger scores and Hanna’s reputation taking shape at the same time. 

Supporting characters like Detective Drucker and Casals carry bigger roles here as members of Hanna’s team, while Michael Cerrito (played by Tom Sizemore in the film) and Charlene (played by Ashley Judd in the film) color in the worlds of McCauley’s crew of thieves. As the story starts in the aftermath of the film-shifting backwards (to 1988) and forward (to 1996 and 2000)-the meat of the book begins to take shape around another vital character from the classic: Val Kilmer’s Chris Shiherlis. 

If any character carries the most pages and general portion of the novel’s central storyline, it’s Shiherlis. The first pages cover the moments after the movie’s finish, with Hanna prowling around Los Angeles after Shiherlis after taking down McCauley and the rest of his crew. Jon Voight’s Nate, the fixer and fleece for Neal’s “scores,” also factors in the novel, especially towards the beginning. 

Once Nate ships Shiherlis out of town (away from Hanna’s grasp) and into the Paraguayan cyber security network, the big chunk of Mann and Gardiner’s tale takes shape, and the novel soon becomes a vivid extension of the movie’s patented greatness. The reason the filmmaker chose the book route with this sequel was the limitless ability to flesh out the backstory, history, and future of the movie. As perfect as the original was, the sequel finds new ways to answer lingering questions. 

*Why did Neal build the “drop it once the heat is felt” mentality? Answered. 

*Did Hanna really have a substance abuse problem? Answered.

*Why would Neal risk it all in the end to chase down Waingro? Sorta answered. 

Speaking of the infamous catalyst from the original, there is a new “Waingro” in the novel, a human flesh wrecking ball that smashes through the worlds of Hanna, McCauley, and Shiherlis. Think of the lead bad guy from the white supremacist gang in “Breaking Bad,” the ones who tried to destroy everything in Vince Gilligan’s world near the end of the show. In “Heat 2,” that guy is named Otis Wardell. You aren’t ready for his level of extreme mayhem, but the reader gets a whiff fairly quick. 

The juice to squeeze here is the expansion of the original’s world, and how everything in the sequel is either a well-constructed callback to the film, something that helps a piece of the old puzzle settle better into place, or an intriguing new element that possibly paints a future showdown. Yes, the end of this book definitely leaves the door open for more tales. 

If Mann and Gardiner took that route and kept on fleshing out this cinematically exotic world, it wouldn’t be too much or extra. There’s ample space and room to design more “Heat” adventures, especially if the duo remains intact. Gardiner is a veteran of the crime novel trade, and she adds an extra layer of authenticity when Mann’s original characters start to interact and blend in the new chapters. 

All of it leaves you wanting more and digs deeper into the complex yet thought-provoking mentality that when you strip down a life-even one riding the rails of criminality and robbery-there’s a soul that bears revealing at the heart of the action. The aspect of “Heat” that made me adore it so much over the decades is the duality that a detective like Hanna and a thief like McCauley can create if a story would bring them together. Mann’s idea that each men knew exactly how the world worked, and how to cater it to your needs instead of asking for too much, powered the mindset of the film.

It’s Shiherlis that powers the sequel, with the reader wondering if he will ever get back to his wife and son, or instead build a life in his new criminally updated surroundings. A supporting character given more of the center stage here, Chris has to choose a future in this story and readers get to experience that change, restructure, and rebirth.

The fact that so much ground is covered-along with several locations and time jumps-and yet the film still finds a way to finish this sequel in LA speaks to the volumes of preparation and skill Mann and Gardiner have for this world. Their mutual love for this cinematic colored playground is very evident.

The Point: “Heat” movie fan or not, the book can be enjoyed immensely either way. If you somehow didn’t see it yet, you’ll hit play after the last page.

NOW, what you’ve been waiting for. Who do I think should be cast in the sequel when it’s made into a movie? Look for that later this week, or next. But here’s one pick and it comes from my wife: Charlie Hunnam as the younger/older Chris. Audiences know him and like him, and it could be his big break.

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