Film / Heat

"Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."
Neil McCauley to Vincent Hanna

Heat is the first movie billed almost entirely on featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro together. It's a 1995 Michael Mann film about the relationship between a cop and the criminal he's investigating. It is a loose Remake of Michael Mann's L.A. Takedown, a made-for-television film.

In this movie, Pacino plays Lt. Vincent Hanna, in the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide division, who is in the pursuit of master thief Neil McCauley (De Niro). Neil lives by one rule: when you feel the heat, you walk away. Never become attached to anything you can't leave behind in 30 seconds.

Both men are masters of their professions, but struggle with their personal lives. Hanna wrestles with his family, while Neil is forced to admit (to himself rather than anyone else) he may have feelings for the woman he's been seeing. The tangles of their personal and professional lives become messier as Neil reunites his crew for one last gig, a retirement send-off.

Despite the action trappings, and having one of the most memorable and realistic shootouts in movie history, the drama of the film comes from the internal strife of the two characters. On one hand, Vincent is obsessive about his job and oblivious to his failing marriage. On the other, Neil is successful and has nearly everything he wants, but is still painfully lonely. Neither man is happy or fulfilled, and each is looking in all the wrong places to find those missing pieces.

This is the film that helped put director Michael Mann (Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies) on the map.

Currently Mann is doing a prequel novel that would narrate the main cast's early days prior to being involved in the movie.

Not to be confused with the Burt Reynolds movie of the same name. Or with The Heat.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Contains an especially famous moment where Hanna pulls over Neil and invites him to have coffee. They both know who each other are but have nothing against each other at that moment. It also epitomizes the Dueling-Stars Movie as a scene with just Pacino and DeNiro playing off each other, and you're not quite sure if it will turn violent.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Significantly so, especially in regards to the character's personal lives. Shiherlis' gambling addiction and Hanna's troubled stepdaughter are two elements among many that were not present in the original L.A. Takedown film.
  • Affably Evil: Neil may be a ruthless bank robber but he's not above polite conversation even with people he says he would murder if he had to, as witnessed by his genial encounter with Vincent. For example, when he takes the bank hostage, he says, "We want to hurt nobody. We're here for the bank's money and not your money. Your money's insured by the federal government, you're not going to lose a dime. Think of your families, don't risk your life, don't try to be a hero." He also tells those who are sick or have heart trouble to line up against the walls.
  • Agitated Item Stomping: The poor television set that Hanna did in did NOT deserve it.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: McCauley himself, at the end.
  • All There in the Script: In the original draft, Hanna was explained to have been a habitual cocaine user, thus enabling him to keep his "edge" at all times. This is never mentioned in the film, but Al Pacino used it in his performance anyway, thus offering some justification for his at times rather hammy performance.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Trejo is able to utter some final lines to McCauley before demanding to be shot.
  • Antagonist Title: Surprisingly, yes, even though the title is about the good guys. Because the focus of the film is evenly divided between Neil and Hanna, people on two opposite sides of the law, the title counts for this. The "heat" is a slang term for the cops, whom Neil needs to outsmart and run from to succeed in the end. It is personified in Hanna (Neil's antagonist), who eventually becomes the 'heat' for which Neil needs to drop everything he is attached to in 30 seconds flat to make his escape.
  • Apathetic Citizens: For some reason, none of the citizens on the street bother with the trio of guys carrying large bags and assault rifles.
  • Arc Words: The quote on top of this page; it's McCauley's credo in regards to his line of work. Disregarding it has disastrous consequences for any who pull it.
  • Armed Blag: The film opens with Neil and his crew holding up an armored car, shooting all three guards, then escaping.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Hanna proves to be a top-notch sniper when giving Cheritto a headshot.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: Averted. All of the shots you hear during the bank robbery shootout use the original on site recording rather than dubbed in sound effects. That's the reason why the shots sound a bit scratchier compared to other scenes where guns are fired. You also hear shots echoing between the skyscrapers.
  • Bank Robbery: The last job Neil plans with his gang is a bank heist, meant to be a pre-retirement gig. It doesn't go well.
  • Bath Suicide: Hanna's stepdaughter tries to do this, after she got seriously distraught that her biodad wouldn't give her the time of day. When he gets home from work Hanna finds her lying in his bathtub with her wrists cut. He immediately ties her arms and legs to stop the bleeding, and rushes her to the nearest ER. It's got more Squick than when Bosko gets shot during the bank robbery shootout, or when the three guards are killed in the armored car robbery.
  • Batman Gambit: About halfway through, there is a scene where Neil, Shiherlis, Cheritto and Trejo meet up in an intermodal yard, apparently to paint it as their next target, as well as to map out the viable escape routes. The whole time, Hanna's team surveys their activities from hidden vantage points. When Hanna and his team later assemble on the same location to break down Neil's gameplan, they quickly discover the worthlessness of the target location, as well as the absence of any effective escape routes. Hanna then breaks out in smug laughter, realizing now that Neil had wanted his team to get in the open so that he could "make" (i.e. get the lowdown the same way they did on his own team) them, and jokingly makes poses while Neil photographs him.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill:
    • At the beginning of the film to steal an ambulance.
    • At the hotel with Waingro, McCauley merely needs to look and sound like he belongs in order not to be challenged by the hotel staff.
  • Beard of Evil: It is no coincidence that Neil has a natty little goatee while Hanna is clean shaven. Waingro, who is clearly evil, has the bigger beard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Vincent gets his the expense of Neil's life. Bosko, Cheritto and Breedan are killed during the botched heist. Trejo and his wife are brutally tortured, the latter succumbing to her injuries and the former mercy-killed by Neil. Chris survives but has to abandon his wife and son. Vincent is also very close to a divorce but it's left somewhat ambiguous.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Both played straight and subverted in the bank robbery shootout - Donald Breeden is the first of the crooks to die, which happens after bullets fired from Casals and Drucker pierce the windshield and hits him in the head. Sgt. Drucker is one of the cops left standing.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Zigzagged.
    • Straight and averted in the bank robbery shootout:
      • When Hanna shoots Cheritto during the robbery shootout, this trope is played. You see Hanna fire his rifle once as soon as Cheritto turns to face him, and then Cheritto falls backwards, but you don't see a bullet hole sprout on his face or any heavy bleeding.
      • Likewise, averted when Bosko is shot in the neck by Shiherlis at the beginning. When Hanna leans down to check Bosko's pulse, he's bleeding very extensively.
    • In the drive-in theater shootout:
      • There isn't much blood seen when the gun-wielding assassin is shot during the ambush at the drive-in theater, other than some streaks of blood that appear on the windshield of the station wagon when Neil runs over him.
      • Averted with the pickup truck driver, as blood splatters heavily when Cheritto empties a shotgun into the truck as it passes by at speed.
    • Averted with the armored car robbery, because when the guards are getting shot, you can only see the bullet hole appear in the first guard, the one that Waingro shoots. And though you don't see blood spurting when the other guards are shot, when Hanna comes to look at the scene, blood has pooled pretty extensively around the bodies of the three guards (we get a very decent look at the corpse of the third guard, the one who was shot three times by Cheritto), which comes as no surprise given that the second and third guards were each shot multiple times (the second one was shot five times with Neil's assault rifle and the third one was shot three times by Cheritto).
  • Boom, Headshot: During the armored car robbery, Waingro shoots the first guard in the face at point-blank range with his pistol. Also, the same effect with the third guard when Cheritto uses the Mozambique Drill on him. Cheritto himself also gets shot in the head by Lt. Hanna at the end of the botched bank robbery.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Subverted. During the bank robbery shootout, you only see Neil, Shiherlis and Cheritto reload exactly once, despite having only 30-round magazines at most. If you look carefully, however, you can see see them partway through the motions of reloading a few times.
  • California Doubling: Averted. Every thing outdoors was filmed on location, and nothing is doubling for another location. The armored car robbery, for instance, is on Venice Boulevard beneath the I-10 and I-110 interchange, with the Convention Center visible in the background of several shots.
  • Camera Abuse: Blood gets on the camera when Donald Breedan is given a Boom, Headshot.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Donald Breedan is introduced in what appears to be a scene completely unrelated to the Hanna vs. Neil plot as he gets a job as a short-order cook at a diner. He doesn't appear again until much later, when we see Neil, Cheritto, and Shiherlis take breakfast at said diner and Neil notices and recognizes Breedan behind the grill, and then recruits him as a last-minute substitute for Trejo.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The dialogue in the film has occasional bouts of swearing, but Lt. Hanna's dialogue stands out.
  • Contrived Coincidence: It's certainly a bit of a reach that, on the very day the crew's getaway driver has to cancel at the last minute, they just so happen to meet in a diner during the shift of an ex-con they know.
  • Cool Guns: We might as well list the roster, and see if you agree.
    • Hanna and McCauley's respective sidearms for starters; Hanna favours a Colt Officer's ACP with ivory grips, while McCauley uses a H&K USP at first, before switching to a SIG-Sauer P220.
    • Used in the armored car robbery:
      • Waingro carries a Star Megastar pistol, which he uses to execute the first guard.
      • Cheritto carries two guns - a Ruger KP90 pistol in a crossdraw holster on his tactical vest, and an FN FAL 50.61 Paratrooper rifle as his primary weapon. He uses the latter to shoot the third guard.
      • Shiherlis carries an M733.
      • Neil uses an automatic Colt M654 to mow down the second guard.
      • Trejo carries a Norinco Type 56-1.
    • In the bank robbery shootout:
      • Neil and Shiherlis are using Colt M733s. In the bank, when they have their masks on, to tell them apart, Neil has a dark black suit and Shiherlis has a gray suit.
      • Cheritto is using an IMI Galil.
      • Hanna uses a FN Herstal FNC-80.
      • Detectives Casals, Bosko and Schwartz both use M16A1 assault rifles.
      • Sergeant Drucker has a Mossberg 590 shotgun, and later uses his Beretta sidearm after his shotgun runs out of shells.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Hanna does something like this to Neil after the short gunfight at the airport; he doesn't exactly cradle him, but he does hold his hand and comfort him as he dies.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Despite being overwhelmed by police and flanked on both sides, McCauley and his crew plow their way through the first police blockade, leaving at least a dozen policemen dead or wounded in their wake. Things however deteriorate further for both sides when the shooting resumes.
  • Daddy Didn't Show: The father of Natalie Portman's character was supposed to pick her up for the day but never came, which contributes to her attempted suicide.
  • Death Glare: During the scene at the truck stop diner, Cheritto delivers a very cool one to dissuade fellow diners from noticing Waingro getting beaten up.
  • Deer in the Headlights: The little girl Cheritto uses as a human shield while firing on Drucker and Casals gets taken hostage when she stands still, confused, rather than run away like everyone else when Cheritto approaches.
  • Diner Brawl: A really vicious one happens at the truck stop diner between Neil and Waingro.
  • Disappeared Dad: The unseen father of Hanna's stepdaughter is clearly a selfish jerk not interested in her, but she nevertheless yearns to make a connection with him. His failure to bother with her eventually drives her to attempt suicide. Despite his own obsession with his job, Vincent at least tries to compensate and make some time for her, even as he pursues Neil McCauley.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: Waingro is a Serial Killer of prostitutes. This is one of the purest examples of the trope: the killings have precisely zero bearing on the plot, existing solely to establish Waingro's bona fides as a grade-A bastard, and gratuitously, at that, since during the armored car robbery, Waingro pistol-whips the first guard and then shoots him in the face at point-blank range, demonstrating his ruthlessness.
  • Don't Ask: Neil says it to Nate at the parking garage when Nate asks what went sour during the armored car robbery.
  • Double Tap: Twice, a victim is killed being shot twice in the chest and once in the head — a technique known as the Mozambique Drill which would later be used in the later Michael Mann movie Collateral: Cheritto killing the third guard in the armored car robbery, and Neil killing Waingro at the hotel. During the crime scene investigation into the armored car robbery, Hanna notes this as one of several things that marks them out as serious professionals.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Averted by using the pistol press check instead multiple times.
  • Driven to Suicide: Lauren (Vincent's stepdaughter) slitting her wrists. Fortunately, Hanna gets there in time.
  • Epic Movie: Nearly three hours long. Interestingly enough, the legendary coffee scene ends almost perfectly at the midpoint—in the old days, it would've been be the perfect lead-in to an Intermission.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time we see Waingro, he demands a free coffee refill from a roadside cafe (where it's hinted he's already made himself a nuisance), then walks away as soon as he sees Cheritto's truck without either waiting for his refilled cup or telling the employees to forget it. He doesn't do much more than introduce himself before assuming he's part of McCauley's crew going forward, then glowers at Cheritto when the latter asks him to be quiet so he can concentrate. Even before his actions at the armored car heist, we already know he's an inconsiderate blowhard with anger issues.
    • Lauren gets one as well. She panics because her deadbeat father's half an hour late, then dissolves in tears when she realizes he's probably not coming. Her overreaction to her father's absence presages her suicide attempt late in the film.
  • Faceless Goons:
    • Neil and the crew become these during the armored car robbery when they don hockey goalie masks. However, you can still tell each guy apart based on what they are wearing and their voices:
      • Neil and Shiherlis start in the ambulance and both are wearing paramedic uniforms. To tell them apart, Neil has a white hockey mask and Shiherlis wears a black hockey mask (he's the only one of them to wear a black mask).
      • Cheritto has a visible tactical vest with a pistol on a crossdraw holster.
      • Waingro's mask is shaped differently from those of the other crew members. Also, compared to Neil, Cheritto and Shiherlis, Waingro's hair is disheveled and sticks out from beneath his mask.
      • Trejo is easily distinguishable because he runs across the street laying a spike trap for the cop cars while holding the distinctive-looking AK47 copy Norinco Type 56 assault rifle, and also works the police scanner, audibly warning the rest of the crew.
    • During the bank robbery, when the gang have their ski masks on, Neil wears a dark black suit, while Shiherlis wears a gray suit (both carry Colt M733 rifles), and his ponytail is not entirely covered by his mask. Cheritto and Shiherlis have suits of the same shade of gray, but Cheritto is carrying a different type of rifle.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Cheritto realizes seconds too late that he failed to see Hanna take up a position behind him and get enough time to draw a bead on him. Boom.
  • Five-Bad Band: Neil's crew:
    • Big Bad: Neil McCauley
    • The Dragon: Chris Shiherlis, the most trusted of Neil's men, Cold Sniper, collects money at heists.
    • Evil Genius: Nate, who suggests targets for Neil to hit.
    • The Brute: Michael Cherrito, in charge of crowd control at heists.
    • Dark Chick: Trejo, the getaway driver. Replaced by Donald Breedan for the bank heist.
    • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Waingro, Psycho for Hire whose impulsive ruthlessness ends up botching the armored car heist and nearly gets himself killed by Neil during the diner meeting for his troubles until a momentary distraction caused by a police car patrolling the area allowed Waingro to escape with his life. He would later be hired by Roger Van Zant, who secretly plots the elimination of Neil's team.
  • FiveFiveFive: When Neil is asked for the telephone number he is calling from so they can call him back from a different number, he looks at the pay phone, reads a correct area code for Los Angeles County, 818, but the phone number he gives is a seven-digit number beginning with "1". For technical reasons, regular telephone numbers in North America - US, Canada and the Caribbean Countries - cannot start with "1".
  • Foil: Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: We see a close-up on Hanna when he pulls the trigger to shoot Cheritto. As he pulls the trigger, the camera angle changes very slightly, ostensibly to edit out a cycling malfunction.
  • From Camouflage to Criminal: Neil McCauley is a retired marine who has since become the leader of a gang of armed robbers. It's also a parallel to Vincent Hanna, who is also ex-military.
  • Funny Background Event / Visual Pun: During the bank robbery shootout, there is a moment where Shiherlis crouches behind a car with the license plate "2LUP382" to reload his Colt M733 assault rifle. Per British Army terminology, this means "Second Lying Up Position", and this happens to be the second time Shiherlis is in this position.
  • The Generic Guy: Hanna's fellow policemen (Bosko, Casals, Drucker and Schwartz) get the short end of the stick as far as personality is concerned.
  • Gentleman Thief: A Deconstructed Character Archetype. Neil has the charm and all the connections, but he's painfully lonely, and won't get close to anyone for fear that the cops will be right around the corner. The one major job he's involved in goes terribly awry, and results in over half of his team being killed by the cops. Neil gets more violent as the film progresses, culminating in his revenge overriding his need to escape. He ends up proving his own adage right when he flees (and leaves his girlfriend) after he sees Hanna pursuing him, and winds up dead at the end of the film.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Or "Coffee with McCauley".
  • Grey and Gray Morality: There are no truly good or bad characters. While Neil is ultimately a bad guy (as a career thief), he still has a handful of redeeming qualities. And while Hanna is ultimately a good guy (as a cop), he does have some detracting qualities. The movie exists show that some cops and criminals are Not So Different - Hanna shares many qualities with Neil and also with Shiherlis. Waingro exists purely to show how much better Neil is in comparison.
  • Gun Porn: Much less typical "Gun Porn" and more like "Proper Firearms Procedure And Close Quarters Battle Porn." The bank robbery shootout is full of it, with the robbers using assault rifles of various kinds and the cops using a variety of pistols, shotguns, and rifles. There is also a pretty exotic variety of rifles and pistols that Neil and his crew use during the armored car robbery.
  • Gut Feeling: Hanna says, "Neil is still here. I can feel it."
  • Hero Antagonist: Hanna is one from Neil McCauley's POV.
  • Honor Among Thieves: Neil's team of robbers are mostly this: despite some bad habits, they mostly watch out for each other. Except for Waingro, who is too inhumane to count. Neil had to know going after Waingro would leave him exposed to the cops chasing him, but he had to make the bastard pay for what happened to Trejo and Trejo's wife. See Revenge Before Reason below...
  • Human Shield: During the robbery shootout, a little girl is left alone when Cheritto grabs her to dissuade cops from shooting him for fear of hitting the little girl. Lt. Hanna, who circled around, shoots Cheritto after taking careful aim not to hit the hostage.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Trejo begs Neil to put him out of his misery after being beaten to a pulp by Waingro.
  • Idiot Ball: For such a smart crook, Neil attacking Waingro in a crowded resteraunt, and then trying to execute him in the middle of a parking lot aren't the actions of someone who's trying to keep a low profile. Factoring in his decision to go after his sociopathic partner at the end when he's almost home free, this might just be evidence that Neil isn't as practical and detached as he'd like to believe.
  • Instant Emergency Response: Nicely averted. In the armored car robbery, the crew knows that they have three minutes to do their work from the moment the driver makes the radio call for help to when the first police car arrives. They accomplish the job, though they come very close to using up that time window when Waingro shoots the first guard, necessitating Neil to shoot the second guard and Cheritto to shoot the third guard. The spike strip that Trejo lays out keeps the police from chasing them if they should be spotted while they're driving away from the scene.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Hanna intervenes when he finds out his stepdaughter slit her wrists, and rushes her to the ER. After several emergency surgeries, he and his wife are told that she's gonna make it.
  • Ironic Echo: "Told you I'm never going back."
  • It's Personal: For Neil, after Trejo's death.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Neil confronts Charlene at the motel where he makes the call to Van Zant's drop man and bluffs his way into her motel room by pushing a janitor's cart to outside her door. No disguise is used.
  • Karmic Death: Admit it, you cheered when McCauley gave Waingro the Mozambique Drill (two in the chest, one in the head) treatment. Although the third guard to be shot in the armored car robbery is also killed in this way, he was shot by Cheritto with a semiautomatic rifle, while Waingro executes the first guard at point-blank range with a pistol.
  • Know When To Fold Them: Averted, despite McCauley claiming to live by this trope (see page quote). His failure to escape when he has the opportunity gets him killed.
  • Large Ham: Al Pacino.
    "She's got a... GREAT ASS!! And you got your head ALL THE WAY UP IT! Ferocious, aren't I?"
    "I had COFFEE with McCauley HALF AN HOUR AGO!"
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Happens to Chris Shiherlis' character. He's the only member of Neil's crew (other than Nate, their fence, who in the original script was supposed to get caught,) who eludes the police, but he only does so because Charlene, whom he had been having vicious marital problems with throughout the film and had been cheating on him with Marciano, warns him about Sgt. Drucker and the other policemen at their house. Chris is able to escape, but is forced to abandon his son and wife (who he just then realizes really still does love him.)
  • Married to the Job: Vincent, at the expense of his marriage. And his previous marriage. And the one before that. Neil also, at the expense of any kind of fulfilling personal life whatsoever. It is one of the threads they have in common.
  • Mean Boss: What Breedan deals with as a short-order cook is a boss who treats parolees like shit.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: During his meeting with Vincent, Neil voices his determination to to avoid going to prison again at all costs. After being shot at the end, Neil uses his last words to say "Told you I'm never going back."
  • Noble Demon: Neil. He is a ruthless, violent criminal willing to commit murder when it is necessary, but he takes no pleasure in it and makes every effort to minimize innocent casualties as much as possible. This explains why after the armored car robbery, Neil is pissed at Waingro for shooting the first guard, forcing him to shoot the second guard and Cheritto to shoot the third guard: there was no reason to kill them because all of the attackers were wearing hockey masks to hide their faces. One gets the idea that he'd be a pretty decent guy in a different profession.
  • Non Violent Initial Confrontation: The famous scene with Neil and Vincent at the cafe.
  • Not So Different: When Neil and Vincent sit down at a cafe together and reach this very conclusion.
    Vincent: I don't know how to do anything else.
    Neil: Neither do I.
    Vincent: I don't much want to, either.
    Neil: Neither do I.
    • Also implied at the scene where, after surveilling the robbers at a completely unlikely location for a heist, the cops arrive there to try and figure out exactly what they were targeting only for Vincent to eventually realise that the only reason the robbers went there was to lure the cops out so that they could surveil and research them. He mockingly poses for the cameras. Neil, who is the one taking the photos, smiles respectfully once he realises that Vincent's caught on to what's happened.
    • Hanna also shares a lot with Chris Shiherlis in terms that their marriages are falling apart, with both of their wives cheating on them.
    • One scene has the cops go out to dinner with their families at a nice restaurant. Another scene, which comes right after the shootout at the drive-in movie theater, has the criminals go out to dinner with their families.
    • This trope is subverted, however, in one very important way: when all is said and done, Neil is a sociopath, while Vincent is not. Michael Mann is quick to point this out in the director's commentary and behind-the-scenes features on the DVD and Blu-Ray. Note that when Vincent and Neil meet in the coffee shop, Vincent tells Neil point blank that he will kill him if "it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow" while Neil says he'll put Vincent down because "I will not let you get in my way." The difference between them is graphically illustrated during the bank robbery shootout: Vincent does everything he can, at his own risk, to get innocent bystanders out of harm's way; Neil fires into a crowd to cause confusion, and we see at least one bystander go down.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Cheritto turns around and sees that he's failed to spot-check behind him while firing at Drucker and Casals, as Hanna has drawn a bead on him. Hanna shoots him just as he's beginning to realize.
    • Neil does sentry duty when the crew attempts to rob the precious metals repository. The job goes well, until he hears a small clang coming from the Aztec Linen trucks parked in the nearby lot (caused by a SWAT member in Hanna's truck banging his rifle against the wall). Neil instinctively realizes that the police are hiding and watching them, and quickly walks in to withdraw Cheritto and Shiherlis.
  • One Last Job: Robert De Niro once again, planning one last bank heist, before retiring.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Neil does this twice: at the beginning of the film, he wears a paramedic uniform to steal an ambulance. At the climax, he is able to walk through a hotel swarming with police merely by stealing a security guard's jacket and tie. He makes no other attempt to disguise his appearance. He knows enough that he mostly just needs a Bavarian Fire Drill and act like he belongs. Where he acquired the paramedic uniform might be an interesting Noodle Incident.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Neil and his crew are milder cases but still, they don't seem noticeably upset about shooting the guards during the armored car robbery. And during the bank shootout, they don't show much concern for the many innocent bystanders they're endangering (when we see Neil shoot a burst at Hanna in the parking lot, one officer gets shot, and it looks like at least one bystander also gets hit as well, possibly fatally). But they're disgusted with Waingro because he escalated the armored car robbery into a bloodbath and his reckless actions are a liability to them.
  • Precision F-Strike: The precious metals repository stakeout has this when Neil, on lookout duty, hears a metal clanging caused by a SWAT officer sitting down in Hanna's truck, which leads him to sense that they are being watched. Neil tells Cheritto and Shiherlis to withdraw and they depart, and Sgt. Drucker informs Hanna that the men aren't carrying any loot.
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: [over the radio] OK, let 'em go.
    Police Captain: What do you mean? We can take 'em...
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: On what? What are you gonna take 'em on? Breaking and entering? They didn't steal anything yet. Don't you get it? It gets knocked back to some chicken shit misdemeanour, they do six months and they're out. No fuckin' way.
    Police Captain: I'm not taking the heat from my boss just 'cause you let 'em go! They're not walking.
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: That's exactly what they're gonna do. They're gonna walk. This is my operation. I have tactical command that supercedes your rank! They will walk away and you will let them! [slams his radio down] Fuck!
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Neil says one to Waingro before shooting him
    Neil: "Look at me." (Puts two rounds in Waingro's chest and one in his head)
  • Psycho for Hire: Waingro.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Hanna rants at Ralph when he find out that the latter is having an affair with his wife. Simple, "I'm angry. I'm very angry, Ralph. You know, you can ball my wife if she wants you to. You can lounge around here on her sofa, in her ex-husband's dead-tech, post-modernistic bullshit house if you want to. BUT YOU DO NOT! GET TO WATCH! MY! FUCKING! TELEVISION SET!"
  • Rabid Cop: Vincent's basic routine around criminals is to act like an especially eccentric version of this until he scares/confuses them into telling him something useful. An early script draft showed Hanna as a cocaine addict, explaining his random outbursts. Even though it was removed from the script, Al Pacino still used it as his starting point.
  • Rape as Drama: Happens offscreen to Trejo's wife. And to the underage prostitutes that Waingro kills.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: A number of critics complained that the bank shootout was too over-the-top and broke their Willing Suspension of Disbelief. This was two years before the infamous North Hollywood shootout. Since then, the scene is widely regarded as one of the most realistic and intense shootouts in all of film.
  • Retirony: The bank job was meant to be the crew's last case, and would have gone without a hitch if not for past mistakes coming to bite them in the ass. Some people read Neil and Chris as probably likely to have taken more scores even after the heist (Trejo doesn't indicate one way or another), but definitely true for Cheritto.
    • Invoked for Cheritto. Neil tells him this decision is his alone, and he has a long pause of consideration. He's probably the most financially established and careful man in the crew. You can see he's weighing up the rewards against the very real risk. He decides to go for it for the thrill more than anything else. At the bank you can detect fear and desperation in his actions. Then he calms down and chuckles once inside the "safety" of the getaway car... before Hanna's team swoop in to take them down, with Hanna personally shooting Cheritto. To rub more posthumous "salt in the wound", we see his wife suddenly pay attention to the news story. She had no idea what he actually does for a living, and now she's about to lose everything she ever loved about him.
  • Revenge Before Reason: By the near end of the movie, Neil has an opportunity to leave the country with Eady (his girlfriend) and leave behind his life of crime forever. However, he jeopardizes (and ultimately destroys) that opportunity just so he pay back Waingro for betraying him and killing Trejo (his friend). It goes against his personal code of dropping everything if the "heat" is on. He can't drop the revenge, and it prevents his escape from Los Angeles.
    • Roger van Zant would have collected 100% on the insurance for his stolen bearer bonds and made an extra 40% by buying back the bonds from Neil and his crew at a discount. Instead, he tries to have them killed as a message to the underworld that stealing from him is a bad move.
  • Scenery Gorn: The streets of L.A. after the shootout.
  • Semper Fi: Hanna and Neil were both in the Marines making the already obvious similarities even more apparent. This detail is created from one of Neil's tattoos and the fact that Hanna's normal sidearm is a Colt .45 pistol.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Hanna takes out Cheritto with a headshot when the latter uses a little girl as a Human Shield after the bank robbery.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better:
    • Drucker wields a shotgun during the bank robbery shootout.
    • Cherrito uses one in the drive-in shootout.
    • Subverted with Hanna as he tries to use one during his cat-and-mouse chase with Neil towards the end. He expends all shells on Neil but misses and runs out of ammo. Hanna then ditches the shotgun for his pistol instead.
  • Shown Their Work: This was the film that cemented Mann's reputation as a directer who goes above and beyond the call when it comes to accurate usage of firearms and combat tactics. Much attention is paid to firearms handling procedures and small-arms tactics. This is Michael Mann's movie, and he usually insists in putting his stars through combat boot camp if they'll be anywhere near a gun. Examples include:
    • Watch the pistol press check, use of a breaching shotgun, room clearing in Hanna's raid on Hugh Benny's place.
    • Use of cover during the bank shootout. Neil and Chris Shiherlis both use cars as shields when they are raking the police cars, putting the engine blocks between themselves and enemy gunfire from that direction. You'll notice that at one point when Hanna ducks behind a car to reload as Shiherlis fires a burst at him, he's using the engine block to protect himself as well.
    • Aiming through iron sights, even with a shotgun (Hanna, when chasing Neil at the airport. There are at least three or four police officers, Drucker included, firing shotguns during the bank robbery shootout, but these don't count given that you'd risk getting shot trying to get a perfect hit off with a shotgun).
    • Good trigger discipline in general, along with characters reloading weapons frequently during the bank shootout (although only Shiherlis's is given focus, the others can been seen reloading in the background of several shots). In fact, the shot of Shiherlis reloading his Colt M733 during the bank shootout has allegedly been used as instructional footage by U.S. Army trainers, due to how efficiently performed it is.
    • Hanna, Casals, and Bosko each use assault rifles for the bank robbery shootout, just like Neil, Cheritto and Shiherlis are using. The one difference is that the robbers are shooting their guns in automatic mode, but the cops who use assault rifles are firing them as semi-automatics. That's because even when under fire from heavily armed gunmen like Neil, they want to try taking him and the others out without running the risk of endangering bystanders (this seen when Hanna gets pinned down at the parking lot and is unable to shoot back at Neil because of bystanders running amok in his line of fire as Neil opens up).
    • Even a bounding overwatch: when Neil's crew is split in the bank firefight, they provide suppressive fire for each other in an alternating advance up the street. They also lay down lines of fire that overlap.
    • Donald Breedan provides a nice, and interesting case. He is a recently paroled ex-con determined to set his life straight with his wife's support. However, when he applies for a job as short-order cook at a diner, the Jerkass manager extorts him and treats him like dirt (and we are given hints that imply he has been known to do this in the past). He cannot resist when Neil comes by and asks him to substitute for Trejo as the getaway driver. Breedan's story arc is a realistic portrayal of a sad truth: a number of people do not want to give ex-cons a chance to start their life anew, often forcing them back into the criminal life they were trying to leave.
    • When Hanna arrives at the scene of the armored car robbery, Detective Bosko informs him that according to a homeless man who for the most part, witnessed the heist ("Well he was hiding. He heard it mostly"), one of the robbers called a guard "slick". The truth, which only we the audience know, is that when Waingro Pistol Whips the first guard, Cheritto tells him, "Hey, slick! See that shit comin' outta their ears? They can't fucking hear you! Cool it!" It initially looks like a continuity error or a dialogue mistake on Bosko or the script writer's behalf. In truth, eyewitnesses are not 100% reliable and multiple witnesses can give contradictory accounts about events, and this homeless man was stating what he thought he saw and heard. He may or may not have seen Waingro pistol-whipping the guard, and even if he did, they were all wearing hockey goalie masks that hid their mouths, making it harder to tell who was talking to who.
    • Neil's words he lives by come back to haunt him at the end, but it still only takes him 29.8 seconds to walk out on Eady.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Several of the men swears throughout the movie, but Lt. Hanna stands out.
  • Smug Snake: Waingro certainly seems to think he's badass, but in reality he has no brains and can't overpower anybody unless he's holding a Star Megastar pistol at a deafened and unarmed guard or bashing in the head of an underage prostitute.
  • Sound-Only Death: Trejo's wish to be shot is granted by McCauley. However, we only see a flash of light accompanied by a gunshot from outside the house.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hanna's team has Neil's crew dead to rights without the latter any wiser during the precious minerals repository heist, but a bumbling SWAT officer inadvertently makes a sound while sitting down in their concealed vehicle, spooking Neil and causing him to instruct his men to abort the heist. Hanna is thus forced to let Neil's crew go as a premature arrest would only yield a meager misdemeanor charge.
  • The Starscream: Waingro becomes this after the botched armored car heist.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Waingro's ability to disappear without a noise when Neil, Cheritto, Shiherlis and Trejo are preparing to kill him at the truck stop, but are distracted when a police car appears on the street. Fortunately, the cop suddenly drives off responding to another emergency call, but when Neil, who had his pistol trained on Waingro's head a moment before, looks back to prepare to finish the guy off....Waingro is gone.
  • Steel Eardrums:
    • Averted in the armored car robbery scene. Waingro starts yelling at the guards, "Get back!" but when they don't move, he pistol whips the closest one in frustration (the guards were deafened from Shiherlis blowing open the back doors; and since Waingro was wearing a hockey mask they couldn't even tell he was talking at all). Cheritto turns to him and says, "Hey slick, see that shit comin' outta their ears? They can't fucking hear you! Cool it!" The robbers themselves don't have this problem because Shiherlis shouts "CLEAR!" before he mashes the detonator, giving them plenty of time to plug their ears.
    • Played straight in the bank shootout. The robbers suffer no hearing damage from three automatic assault rifles being fired out of the car. They should not be able to hear each others' yells unless they had hearing aids and ear plugs, and two-way radios.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Lt. Hanna to Neil.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • Donald Breedan is shot in the head by Hanna, Casals and Drucker all at once. And Drucker has a shotgun.
    • The thugs at the drive-in; the assassin is sideswiped by Neil, shot by Chris and Neil from both sides, and then run over by Neil, while the driver receives three blasts from a shotgun, courtesy of Cheritto.
  • That Poor Car: Subverted in the armored car robbery. When Shiherlis sets off a charge to blast open the back doors, the shockwave shatters a row of car windshields, yet we don't hear the standard cacophony of car alarms that would normally happen with this trope. Then again, these cars are in a dealership and their alarms may have been disabled on purpose.
  • Title Drop: The Arc Words.
  • Tragic Mistake:
    • Neil choosing to going after Waingro in the hotel attracts Hanna's attention, which leads to a final, fatal encounter.
    • Cheritto opting to stay on the bank job (he didn't need the money at all and was just in it for the "action") didn't really work out for him either, also leading to a final, fatal encounter with Hanna.
    • Donald Breeden agreeing to serve as getaway driver for the bank job, largely out of frustration with the shitty job his parole officer arranged for him.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The movie shifts between Neil's and Hanna's separate, intersecting stories, though they are mostly separate for a while.
  • Villain Protagonist: Neil McCauley, who shares the role of protagonist with Lt. Hanna.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Or having dinner with their families, in this case. And both sides do it.
    • In addition to the scene of the criminals going out to dinner
    • A deleted scene shows Cheritto mixing his criminal and family careers together, by purchasing hockey masks for the armored car robbery while also buying a doll house for his daughters, which if retained in the final film would have fallen after the scenes of Neil stealing the ambulance and Shiherlis buying demolition charges.
    • Neil runs into Eady at the bookshop where she works, while purchasing a book on different types of metals (implied to be him planning for hitting the precious metals repository).
  • Worthy Opponent: Particularly how Vincent feels about Neil, and sometimes Neil about Vincent.
  • You Do Not Want To Know: Hanna says this when Justine confronts him after he is called away from her at a party to go view one of Waingro's victims:
    Justine Hanna: I guess the earth shattered?
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: So why didn't you let Bosko take you home?
    Justine Hanna: I didn't wanna ruin their night too. What was it?
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: You don't wanna know.
    Justine Hanna: I'd like to know what's behind that grim look on your face.
    Lt. Vincent Hanna: I don't do that. You know it. Let's go, come on.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Hanna catches his wife cheating on him as a result of his own obsessive devotion to pursuing Neil, at the expense of his marriage; he takes it badly. Unexpectedly the scene has comedic elements. Charlene also cheats on Chris with Alan Marciano, so Hanna and Chris have something in common, though the difference is how they discover it: Hanna discovers his wife's infidelity by himself, but Chris doesn't find out about his wife's affair with Alan Marciano by himself: rather, Neil does because he sees them at a motel while making arrangements with Van Zant over a pay phone to exchange the stolen bonds.