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Heat: Robert De Niro and Al Pacino reunite to discuss their hit thriller | Tribeca film festival

Any misgivings about terseness at a Q&A panel dedicated to Heat, a film in which men prefer to let their automatic rifles talk about their feelings for them, were quickly put to one side last night at the dazzling United Palace theater in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.

The Tribeca film festival event dedicated to the 1995 crime classic from Michael Mann – who couldn’t attend due to a positive Covid test, but took care to record a video message from the Italian set of his forthcoming Enzo Ferrari movie, wistfully recalling his initial pitch all those years ago at a Broadway Diner lunch – began with an out-of-the-gate standing ovation for the assembled talent: producer Art Linson, as well as stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, a couple of guys unable to get a cup of coffee in New York without a round of applause. Things only got rowdier from there.

Moderator and No 1 Mann fan Bilge Ebiri expertly held together a pre-screening talkback session that threatened to careen off the rails at any moment, between the boisterous crowd and the hard-to-corral personalities onstage. True to form, De Niro kept tight lips in between his clipped responses, while Linson and Pacino (resplendent in his standard-issue black Thespian Scarf) visibly relished the energy they received from an audience more unruly than most. Not 90 seconds could go by without some comedian on the balcony shouting a quote from the film, an “I love you!” in the direction of either star, or upon the inquiry about which young actors could handle leading Heat today, a cry of “Harry Styles!” met with hearty boos. Pacino’s response that Timothée Chalamet could take on crazed LAPD lieutenant Vincent Hanna went viral on Twitter within seconds, and further amplified the excitement in the room. On two separate occasions, Pacino declared that “these people want to see the movie!” and tried to cut the talk short, only for Ebiri to point out the little clock requiring them to continue “for, like, 20 more minutes, Al”.

Al Pacino and Robert De Niro
Al Pacino and Robert De Niro Photograph: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tribeca Festival

Perhaps all the mild bedlam was for the best, loosening up some stony actors and leading to a candid chat that found some fresh insights in an exhaustively pored-over text. Pacino learned for the first time that Hank Azaria, his scene partner in the interrogation that crests with the immortal line-read of “She got a GREAT ASS”, had no advance notice of where their dialogue would go. “How about this,” Pacino said last night. “I didn’t know I was gonna do that!” Pacino evinced a genuine affection for the volatile, semi-scrupulous Hanna, reflecting that “he did odd things, and he really liked it”, and that the character “had a little help, too”, pantomiming a coke bump to the delight of the crowd. He dropped a pearl of wisdom about the chaotic, disorienting nature of a cop-and-robber shootout like the final firefight that shut down a huge segment of downtown LA: “Michael said, to me, I think privately, that the police in Los Angeles were trained as offense, and they weren’t used to playing defense. The big criminals, professionals, always go offense.”

However withdrawn, De Niro was far from checked out, most engaged by the opportunity to reminisce with a lifelong friend. Discussing their preparation, including firearm training with live ammo, he deadpanned: “I robbed a few banks.” The evening’s most entertaining tangent saw Pacino sounding off about his enthusiasm for The Offer, the Paramount Plus series dramatizing the making of The Godfather. He turned and asked De Niro what he thought of it, cuing the actor up for a perfectly-timed “haven’t seen it”. Pacino was effusive and affectionate in reflecting on the diner-set meetup between Hanna and nemesis Neil McCauley, the first time the two actors had ever shared the screen. “You can do anything with Bob,” he said. “He’s gonna hear it, and react to it, and connect to it. He’s always there, at the ready.”

Linson said it best when he remarked that “if you read [the script], the characters kind of sound like Bob and Al!” They were the deserving main attraction on a night rich in male camaraderie, fitting considering Heat’s muted macho romance between its dueling leads. The absent member of this cohort, director Michael Mann, still got a few good moments courtesy of those representing him; we learned that Mann studiously insulated his cast from the knowledge that there had been a bomb threat at LAX shortly before their shoot there, and Linson recalled an agitated Mann telling the studio suit yelling at him for working too slowly: “If you keep me here any longer, it’s going to go even slower.” And maybe this could account for the beer-hall vibe in the house as well, a natural side effect of fandom for a tragedy about the impossible divisions separating kindred bros. If nothing else, the atmosphere proved that there’s a passionate, personal connection between Heat and its disciples. The crowd greeted the stars as if they’d all known each other forever. After a lifetime spent obsessing over the pair’s movies, everyone just wanted to kick back and talk about the good old days with their friends Bob and Al.

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