Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley, professional armed robber
Los Angeles, Spring 1995
Release Date: December 15, 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Costume Designer: Deborah Lynn Scott
De Niro’s Costumer: Marsha Bozeman
A person’s characteristics are always made plainly visible by his or her attire. Clothing gives signals that all coordinate with the person’s background, lifestyle, socioeconomic status, occupation, and personality.
In Michael Mann’s noirish 1995 masterpiece Heat, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino face off, sharing the screen for the first time (their roles in The Godfather Part II were in completely separate timelines, as you well know). De Niro plays Neil McCauley, a professional armed robber who remains cool-as-a-cucumber but can be remorselessly ruthless, and Pacino stars as LAPD Lt. Vincent Hanna, the erratic detective tasked with taking him down.
If all a person had to use were images of De Niro in the film, wearing a largely-cut gray suit and an emotionless stare while carrying a state-of-the-art firearm, it would be crystal clear that he was a hardened criminal, respected and feared by both friend and foe, but burdened with a fatal weakness yet to be determined.
What’d He Wear?
As a professional criminal in a Michael Mann film, Neil McCauley’s uniform is a gray suit and open white shirt. In fact, unless he’s in disguise, all of his attire in the film consists of a gray suit and white shirt. This may sound familiar to some of you…
Although there are similarities, McCauley’s four suits seen in the film all vary in terms of colors, styles, and patterns. The first, which will be covered here, is a medium gray semi-solid suit with a double-breasted jacket.
This first suit is McCauley’s “business suit”, worn mostly when meeting with associates or studying details for an upcoming job. It is a medium gray pick twill weave. According to the director’s commentary, Michael Mann states that all of the gray suits worn by McCauley in the film were designed to help him blend into a crowd and not draw attention to himself. The suit is described in the screenplay when Neil first meets with Nate at LAX after the armored truck heist:
Neil's in a Lincoln Town car, gray suit, white shirt, no tie.
The fit is large without the extremely baggy look that was fashionable in the mid-1990s. The wide, padded shoulders and double-breasted cut of the jacket make Neil look imposing.
It is easy to forget that Robert De Niro is only average male height at 5’10”; he carries himself like a much taller man. Oppositely, Al Pacino – who is considered short at 5’7″ – allows himself to be overwhelmed by the fit of his suits, which is appropriate for his character of Vincent Hanna. Hanna is simultaneously confident and humble; he doesn’t care how he looks because he knows he can get the job done despite his life being a “disaster zone”. McCauley, on the other hand, likes to make an impression. Though not as loudly-dressed as other criminals he has played, De Niro still dresses like a gangster, albeit an understated one. Although a gray suit does help a person “blend in” as intended with McCauley, his suits convey power with their large double-breasted cuts.
This suit jacket is double-breasted with a 6×2 front, although McCauley wears it unbuttoned. The rear is ventless, a common option on double-breasted suits, especially in the ’90s. Other details include 3-button cuffs, a welted breast pocket, and flapped hip pockets. Somewhat sloppily, McCauley occasionally allows the hip pocket flaps to be half-tucked.
McCauley’s suit trousers are double reverse-pleated and rise low on his waist. They have side pockets, but he never removes his jacket so the rear pockets are left a mystery. One that will keep you up nights, I’m sure. The bottoms are plain-hemmed with a short break. Some “sartorialists” say that pleated trousers shouldn’t be worn without cuffs, but why the hell not? What if a guy likes pleats but doesn’t like cuffs?
Since the trousers have such a short break, McCauley’s footwear is very visible. He wears a pair of black leather plain-toe oxfords and black dress socks. Typically, the sock color is supposed to match the trouser color to continue the leg line, but black is an acceptable option with black shoes. Also, I’d feel really strange criticizing Robert De Niro for his socks.
McCauley appropriately matches his black shoes with a black leather belt, fastened in the front through a silver squared clasp.
McCauley wears a plain white dress shirt with a moderately spread collar that he always wears unbuttoned without a tie. The cuffs close with a button, and there is a front placket. A pro like McCauley almost never takes his jacket off, but a breast pocket can be glimpsed on his shirt when he reaches over to shake Eady’s hand at the cafe.
McCauley wears a black digital wristwatch throughout the film. Although not the most fashionable, McCauley’s priority is function over form. Someone as precise as McCauley would need to know down to the second what time it is without a second thought; even his love life is dictated by a 30-second rule.
McCauley’s other suits are a light gray single-breasted suit when visiting Charlene Shiherlis, a black suit and tie when out to dinner with his gang, and – finally – a dark charcoal pinstripe double-breasted suit for the climactic bank robbery.
Go Big or Go Home
Heat offers a cool neo-noir tour of LA, filmed in 65 locations without a single soundstage. On the evening following the armored truck heist, we follow Neil from the gang’s diner to a bookstore, a cafe, and finally back to his place for a late night romp fueled by lust and loneliness.
The truckers’ diner where the gang officially breaks ties with Waingro was Johnie’s Broiler at 7447 Firestone Boulevard in Downey, about 12 miles southeast of downtown L.A. It stood for more than a decade after Heat, but it was demolished in January 2007. Bob’s Big Boy acquired the property two years later, luckily, and rebuilt the diner with its original 1958 plans, even salvaging some materials from Johnie’s. Now called Bob’s Big Boy Broiler and proudly part of the Big Boy franchise, you can visit the restaurant’s Facebook page and even catch sight of it in a few episodes of Mad Men. Evidently, the diner is a great place to grab a burger and check out some classic cars.
From the diner, McCauley heads out on his own to a Hennessey + Ingalls bookstore, a Santa Monica based franchise that specializes in art and architecture. The one visited by McCauley was located at 1254 Third Street Promenade but has since closed. To pick up your own thrilling version of Stress Fractures in Titanium from a Hennessey + Ingalls, you can head to its current Santa Monica location at 214 Wilshire Boulevard or the L.A. Store at 1520 North Cahuenga Boulevard. Both stores close by 8:00 p.m., so don’t plan on having your night run too late.
Unfortunately, Stress Fractures in Titanium doesn’t actually exist, so you might be forced to buy a different metallurgy book if you feel like:
a) Boring yourself to death, or
b) Meeting a cute bookstore clerk in a restaurant who recognizes your odd taste in metallurgy, not realizing it’s part of your job as a criminal but fits nicely with your cover as a salesman.
Neil McCauley would choose option b, as we discover. After buying his book, McCauley steps out onto Third Street and evidently walks for about five minutes until he gets to the Broadway Deli at 1457 Third Street on the south end of the promenade, naturally at the corner of Third Street and Broadway. On the opposing corner stands the Broadway Bar and Grill, which doubled as the Trax record store in Pretty in Pink. Although it’s closed now, the Broadway Deli was a nice upscale restaurant for L.A. big shots to hobnob over coffee and sandwiches.
Less than a half a mile away from the bookstore, it serves as a very reasonable and viable place for Neil to run into Eady, the bookstore employee who recognizes him. After a brief conversation, the two retire to Eady’s scenic pad in Hollywood Hills, where they share some whiskey on the rocks before consummating their attraction.
Days later, McCauley sports the same suit when Lt. Hanna is following him westbound on California’s I-105, also known as the Century Freeway but officially called the “Glenn Anderson Freeway”. Hanna pulls him over just before hitting Exit 2B, which would exit onto I-405 to Santa Monica and Long Beach. Hanna invites McCauley out for a cup of coffee.
Evidently, the men take exit 2B and head north up the 405, then exiting onto La Cienga Boulevard and continue heading north before turning left onto Wilshire and stopping at 9101 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where the popular Kate Mantilini restaurant still stands today. Kate Mantilini is still known for its tasty late night dinners today. The restaurant was first opened in 1987 with a second location opening in Woodland Hills in 2003. You can still grab a late dinner there, but it closes by 10:30 during the week and 11:30 on weekends.
Although only described as “Food Stand” in the screenplay, Kate Mantilini has gained noted popularity for its use in Heat as the first location where De Niro and Pacino shared the screen. The restaurant is proud of the fact, mentioning it on their website and taking reservations for diners at table #71, better known as “The Table”, which is where the two men sat for the scene. Above the door, “Heat” is spelled out in neon with a large poster of De Niro and Pacino inside the establishment. The scene took three days to film, with Mann using the restaurant’s actual employees as extras. He awarded them all with a SAG card on the last day of filming.
It is in the brief but iconic scene at Kate Mantilini where De Niro and Pacino show off why they’re two of the most legendary actors to ever hit the screen. It’s well-written, of course, but their delivery (unrehearsed, as requested by De Niro) makes the scene stand out as a genuine conversation between two talented men on opposing sides of the law…
Hanna: Seven years in Folsom. In the hole for three. McNeil before that. McNeil as tough as they say?
McCauley: You lookin’ to become a penologist?
Hanna: You lookin’ to go back? You know, I chased down some crews; guys just lookin’ to fuck up, get busted back. That you?
McCauley: You must’ve worked some dipshit crews.
Hanna: I worked all kinds.
McCauley: You see me doin’ thrill-seeker liquor store holdups with a “Born to Lose” tattoo on my chest?
Hanna: No, I do not.
McCauley: Right. I am never goin’ back.
Hanna: Then don’t take down scores.
McCauley: I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me.
Hanna: So you never wanted a regular type life?
McCauley: What the fuck is that? Barbecues and ballgames?
McCauley: Regular type life, like your life?
Hanna: My life? No, no… My life’s a disaster zone. I got a stepdaughter so fucked up because her real father’s this large-type asshole. I got a wife, we’re passing each other on the down-slope of a marriage – my third – because I spend all my time chasing guys like you around the block. That’s my life.
McCauley: A guy told me one time, “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.” Now, if you’re on me and you gotta move when I move, how do you expect to keep a… a marriage?
Hanna: What are you, a monk?
McCauley: I have a woman.
Hanna: What do you tell her?
McCauley: I tell her I’m a salesman.
Hanna: So then, if you spot me coming around that corner… you just gonna walk out on this woman? Not say good bye?
McCauley: That’s the discipline.
Hanna: That’s pretty vacant, you know.
McCauley: Yeah, it is what it is. It’s that or we both better go do something else, pal.
Hanna: I don’t know how to do anything else.
McCauley: Neither do I.
Hanna: I don’t much want to either.
McCauley: Neither do I.
Hanna: You know, I have this recurring dream. I’m sitting at this big banquet table and all the victims of all the murders I ever worked are sitting at this table and they’re staring at me with these black eyeballs because they got eight-ball hemorrhages from the head wounds and there they are, these big balloon people because I found them two weeks after they’d been under the bed. The neighbors reported the smell, and there they are, just sitting there.
McCauley: What do they say?
McCauley: No talk?
Hanna: They don’t have anything to say. They just look at each other. They look at me. And that’s it, that’s the dream.
McCauley: I have one where I’m drowning. And I gotta wake myself up and start breathing or I’ll die in my sleep.
Hanna: You know what that’s about?
McCauley: Yeah. Having enough time.
Hanna: Enough time? To do what you wanna do?
McCauley: That’s right.
Hanna: You doin’ it now?
McCauley: No, not yet.
Hanna: You know, we are sitting here, you and I, like a couple of regular fellas. You do what you do, and I do what I gotta do. And now that we’ve been face to face, if I’m there and I gotta put you away, I won’t like it. But I tell you, if it’s between you and some poor bastard whose wife you’re gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.
McCauley: There is a flip side to that coin. What if you do got me boxed in and I gotta put you down? Cause no matter what, you will not get in my way. We’ve been face to face, yeah. But I will not hesitate. Not for a second.
Hanna: Maybe that’s the way it’ll be… or, who knows…?
McCauley: …or maybe we’ll never see each other again.
According to DVD featurettes, the film – and the diner scene in particular – are based on Det. Chuck Adamson’s pursuit of serial criminal Neil McCauley in 1964. In an interview, Adamson states that he indeed met the real McCauley in a coffee shop then proceeded to openly discuss the possibilities ahead of them.
McCauley tries to blend into the background, but he must subconsciously know how cool and powerful he looks.
- Gray semi-solid “pick” twill-weave suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted large-cut jacket with padded shoulders, 6×2-button front, 3-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and ventless rear
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with extended waist tab, belt loops, plain-hemmed bottoms with short break
- White long-sleeve button-down dress shirt with moderately spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black leather plain-toe oxfords with black laces
- Black dress socks
- Black leather belt with a silver-toned square clasp
There is a scene of McCauley standing against a window in his beachside home in Malibu, watching the ocean as his handgun sits on a counter behind him. The shot was clearly influenced by Alex Colville’s 1967 painting “Pacific”, which shows a shirtless man looking out onto the sea with a Browning Hi-Power idling on the table behind his back.
The painting’s influence is clear by Mann’s choice for McCauley’s handgun in the script:
He checks the chamber and then inserts into the grip of his 9mm. Browning a 14-shot clip.
McCauley was clearly originally intended to carry a Browning Hi-Power, which gained a reputation as the one of the first “Wonder Nines” with its 13-round magazine. With the development of the Beretta 92 series, the Glock, and the SIG-Sauer P226 in the 1980s, the idea of a high-capacity 9 mm pistol lost its novelty. The Hi-Power, though still a reliable and excellent handgun, was eclipsed in popularity by this new breed.
Mann, a firearms aficionado, obviously respected the Browning enough to put it in the hands of his sharp antagonist, but alas the movie gods stepped in and Neil was given the Heckler & Koch USP, a German semi-automatic which was still fresh to the market after its 1993 introduction. Development of the USP began four years earlier when Heckler & Koch began work on a replacement for their P7 series of pistols. The result was the rugged USP pistol, a semi-automatic pistol that manages its short recoil trigger with a mechanical recoil reduction system, which buffers the slide and barrel and reduces recoil effects on both the pistol components and the shooter themselves.
The USP was introduced in January 1993 in the recently-developed .40 S&W caliber, carrying 13 rounds of .40 in the magazine. The USP9 – naturally in 9×19 mm Parabellum – followed with 15 rounds in the magazine. In May 1995, the USP45 was rolled out with a 12-round magazine of .45 ACP. Mann evidently liked his laconic gray-suited anti-hero using the USP, as he armed Collateral‘s Vincent (Tom Cruise) with a USP45.
McCauley carries the USP on a tactical vest during the opening armored car robbery with five spare magazines, giving him ninety rounds in a pinch should he need them (15 rounds in each of the five, plus another mag in the pistol already). Once the robbery is over, McCauley keeps the USP tucked into his waistband with his suit.
The guns stay relatively true to the script, with McCauley carrying a 9 mm during the first half of the film and switching to a .45 for the latter portion, presumably to get rid of the evidence after killing Van Zant’s shooter at the abandoned drive-in. Mann probably envisioned a 1911 pistol in his screenplay, but McCauley ends up with a .45-caliber SIG-Sauer P220.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
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.
Unrelated to clothes or character or anything, IMDB reports that De Niro and Pacino were both asked by a Japanese TV station: “Which role-play, police or robber, did you do when a boyhood?” Although it took me several times to read this and realize they were asking what role they assumed when playing Cops and Robbers, De Niro got it right away, replying with “Police.” Pacino responded, “Police doing robbery.”