Robert De Niro needed three days to perfect a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the heat.

Robert De Niro needed three days to perfect a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the heat.

The L.A. crime classic "Heat" is more more popular than it was in the middle of the 1990s thanks to the explosive literary success of "Heat 2," the prequel and sequel to literature written by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner. One of the best American heist movies ever produced, Mann's cat-and-mouse modern noir epic has gained recognition over time. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, two New York City theatre performers who, oddly, had to create a movie set in Los Angeles in order to eventually work together, provide powerful performances in "Heat." They had never shared a screen before their encounter in a crowded coffee shop for a meeting of the minds near the end of "Heat," despite the fact that they were both featured in "The Godfather Part II." Michael Mann made the difficult choice to forego showing both actors together in a wide shot because their performances were too compelling to ignore.
Lieutenant Vincent Hanna, played by Pacino, is aware that he is unlikely to ever apprehend such a cunning criminal as Neil McCauley. De Niro portrays McCauley as an implacable criminal mastermind who will not be stopped at any price. The adherence to a personal code that McCauley upholds is what makes him such a potent opponent. He has established ground rules and pledged never to stray from them, which is why the "Heat" moment in the car where he decides to shoot Waingro, the guy who betrayed him, is so difficult to see. Mann reportedly said that it took three days of filming to get McCauley's rash smile.
Mann's remarks in an insightful interview with LA Weekly on capturing the smirk on camera demonstrate how meticulous he is as a director:

"I didn't get the shot we took that one night. We returned the following night, and I believed I had it. We returned for a third night because I was without it. I would suggest that we go back and reshoot that moment for an hour while we were still at the airport. And then we succeeded. Although it is one of those most elusive things, if you have it, it truly pays off."
"I didn't get the shot we took that one night. We returned the following night, and I believed I had it. We returned for a third night because I was without it. I would suggest that we go back and reshoot that moment for an hour while we were still at the airport. And then we succeeded. Although it is one of those most elusive things, if you have it, it truly pays off."

In hindsight, it's simple to understand why McCauley's character values accuracy so highly in that one short shot. He may have only smiled once throughout "Heat," and that was when he broke his own rules and did something unexpected. Mann saw that McCauley's yearning to experience life and not living such a regimented existence was revealed at that calm time. Mann shows that "responding that way is a departure from his discipline of distance and isolation." It's a mistake, but he finds it exhilarating since he is reacting instinctively, viscerally, and impulsively.
It's possible that McCauley might have made a different choice if he had realised at the time that his desire to exact retribution would result in his demise. Hours after De Niro is assassinated on the LAX airstrip, the novel "Heat 2" starts. Without missing a beat, Pacino immediately pursues Chris, a figure played by Val Kilmer, to finish the narrative.

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