Heat – Neil McCauley’s Gray Double-Breasted Suit
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, possibly from the French fashion label Yves Saint Laurent according to the Harry Ransom Center costume inventory. The wide, padded shoulders and double-breasted cut of the jacket contribute to Neil’s subtly imposing silhouette.
It is easy to forget that Robert De Niro is only average male height at 5’10”, as Neil McCauley carries himself like a much taller man. Oppositely, Al Pacino—shorter 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 traditional 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 have double reverse-facing pleats and a relatively low rise, held up with a black leather belt from Cole Haan that closes through a squared silver-toned single-prong buckle. They have side pockets and likely back pockets, but we can’t confirm the latter as we never see him without the jacket. The bottoms are plain-hemmed
The short break of the trousers keep McCauley’s footwear plainly visible, wearing a pair of black leather plain-toe Bally loafers and black Bruno Magnli dress socks.
McCauley almost exclusively wears plain white shirts, such as the oxford cotton Club Room shirt that he wears sans tie and open at the neck through these sequences. The shirt design echoes most American off-the-rrack shirts with its breast pocket, front placket, and button cuffs.
McCauley wears a black digital wristwatch that reinforces his priority for function over form, allowing the meticulous Neil to not need to waste more than a second to know the exact time. After all, this is the kind of guy who even dictates his love life by a 30-second rule. The watch was definitively identified in May 2018 by WatchUSeek forum contributor “DDickson73” as a Timex Stealth.
McCauley’s other suits are a light gray silk single-breasted suit when visiting Charlene Shiherlis, a black suit and tie when out to dinner with his gang, and—finally—a charcoal pinstripe double-breasted suit for the climactic bank robbery.
Much of De Niro’s screen-worn costumes, props, and memorabilia from his prolific career have been donated and extensively inventoried for the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Check out the Heat collection… and search by “Change 3” and “Change 10” to see the items specifically associated with this outfit.
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 stood until it was forced to close in 2014 after 27 years serving clientele from all walks oflife.
Although only described as “Food Stand” in the screenplay, Kate Mantilini has gained notoriety 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.
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 upon its 1930s development 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.
How to Get the Look
The quintessential “gray man”, Neil McCauley effectively blends in with his contemporarily styled gray double-breasted suit, though he must be aware on some level of how cool he looks.
- Gray semi-solid wool suit, consisting of:
- Double-breasted 6×2-button jacket with peak lapels, widely padded shoulders, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with extended waist tab, belt loops, plain-hemmed bottoms with short break
- White cotton shirt with moderately spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, and button cuffs
- Black leather plain-toe loafers
- Black dress socks
- Black leather belt with a squared silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Timex Stealth black digital watch
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie as well as the 2022 episode of the From Tailors With Love podcast featuring my friends Pete, Ken, and Kyle discussing Heat‘s costume design.
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.
It seems like Michael Mann (just as Quentin Tarantino with his black suit-white shirt-black tie bad guy combo) considers grey suits to be uniforms of professional criminals – Neil McCauley, Vincent, Frank… It’s easier to say when he isn’t dressing his criminal character in one – mainly when he’s tied to historical accuracy (say, ‘Public Enemies’) or to original stylistics (‘Miami Vice’ – though there are some grey suits, those are clearly off-focus, and drug dealers clothe themselves the way we expect from drug dealers, and ‘Manhunter’ is not a story of grey tones either – besides, none of ‘Manhunter’s bad guys is a ‘professional’ criminal).
It seems to me that such choice of colours reflects the backbone of each director’s creations – to Tarantino, death is the punchline of every story (“I just shot Marvin in the face!”), he accentuates every kill, and his killers dress accordingly – in funeral suits, they place themselves out of the crowd by wearing clothes no regular guy would wear on daily basis (unless the regular guy is a part of jazz band or a kid trying to look hip – or, ahem, an undertaker). Mann, his stories are about professionalism, and yes, business-like grey suits truly are a second skin – not a statement, but a camouflage for the land of concrete and glass.
Great post about a great movie.
Regarding the Browning Hi-Power… While I agree that it is a fantastic, iconic weapon, having McCauley carry one would have broken an unwritten rule: Michael Mann’s primary protagonists carry large bore handguns. Consider…
Thief: Frank—1911, .45 ACP
Manhunter: Will Graham—Charter Arms Bulldog, .44 Special
Heat: McCauley—USP and Sig 220, .45 ACP; Hanna—Colt Officer’s 1911, .45 ACP
Collateral: Vincent—USP, .45 ACP
Miami Vice (film): Crockett—TIKI 1911, .45 ACP; Tubbs—Sig 220, .45 ACP
Public Enemies: John Dillinger—1911, .45 ACP
And of course, TV’s Sonny Crockett carried his famous Bren Ten 10mm before switching to a S&W 645 .45 ACP. Tubbs did carry a .38, but he really wasn’t the main protagonist of the show.
There were probably a few exceptions, but in general Michael Mann=Big Bore.
Thanks! You’re right that Mann sure loves to give his heroes a .45 (for good reason!) I’ve heard guys say that the constant use of a .45 is impractical and unrealistic since it is “too much gun” for most people, but after watching a little guy like Cruise handle himself nicely with the USP-45 in Collateral, I think that argument is null, especially since Mann’s criminals are always pros rather than street thugs who just stick a Saturday Night Special in their pants.
I appreciate the breakdown of each; I always noticed the trend, but I had never really compared them against each other. Plenty of 1911s, which is always good to see.
Any chance you could do one of these on De Niro’s haircut in the movie?
Hey Josh – I’m actually thinking of a post (with my barber’s help) that looks at several movie/TV BAMFs’ haircuts and analyzes them. I’ll make sure to include De Niro in Heat for that roundup. Is there anyone else you’d be curious about seeing here?
Thanks for replying.
That sounds good, thanks. At the moment there’s no other that come to mind. I’ll keep you posted if there is any. I’ll look forward to the haircut one.
Hey, i only just came back to this now.
Is there any chance you posted the haircut one for De Niro in Heat?