For every job that can conceivably be thought of on the spectrum of human activity, there's at least one really good movie that gets covering that occupation right. Recently, a real life bank robber was asked which movie really highlights banking robbing the best. According to former bank robber Shon Hopwood, the one film that makes bank heists look the best is none other than Michael Mann's modern classic Heat, with the reasons being listed as the following:
Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Jon Voight and a whole bunch of other characters are a group of professional thieves, and it all leads to a bank robbery and shootout. The big bank robbery scene in downtown L.A. is just sprawling. They must have blocked off half the city. But no heist movies are like real life. They glamorize robbing banks and then 20-year-olds like me in the 1990s watch and think it's a glamorous lifestyle.
The man who is singing the praises of Heat as a movie is bank-robber-turned-law-professor Shon Hopwood, one of a handful of subjects who spoke with The Washington Post regarding actual reality versus filmed reality. In the case of Hopwood, Mann's widely-beloved crime drama is the top pick for detailing the life of this unconventional method of making some money. He's certainly not alone in this opinion either, as Heat has built a reputation of excellence with moviegoers of all stripes, although he is careful to note that robbing banks is less glamorous in real life.
A little over two decades after its release, Heat still stands as a well-regarded heist thriller with audiences and critics alike. The cat and mouse game between De Niro's professional thief and Al Pacino's dogged police officer who's hot on nabbing him has some scenes of unbelievable action, and firecracker dialogue. The film was so influential that it was one of the inspirations for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver, as well as Shon Hopwood's career as a thief. But as Hopwood readily admits, the movie did not prepare him for the reality of bank robberies, which eventually saw him serve eleven years in prison. However, Shon's story does have a happy ending, as he eventually took up legal writing as a hobby in prison, and eventually parlayed his skills as a writer into practicing, and now teaching, law.
But thinking back to Michael Mann's Heat, we can see where the life of a bank robber might seem high flying and exciting to someone like Mr. Hopwood. After all, Robert De Niro's Neil McCauley does lead an adrenaline charged life that pays well. Plus, watching a sequence like the big bank robbery shown below, it's easy to get caught up in the more exciting aspect of the proceedings.
But even with the action and adventure that the film promises, there's still a dour cost that's implied throughout, and explicitly shown in the fates of some of De Niro's compatriots. And in the end, Heat could be considered even more accurate, as it shows the downside to the life that McCauley leads, as well. The fact that Shon Hopwood could walk away from his ill-chosen vocation is something that he's obviously grateful for. If you ask me, the full story behind his incarceration and eventual redemption is something I'd love to see a movie about.
For now though, we'll just go back to watching Heat again. And you can do the same, with a newly released "Director's Definitive Edition" that hit Blu-ray earlier this year.