Showdown at Mantalini’s

For Transmission Annual: Hospitality (2009).

It is […] difficult to know what friend signifies, even and especially among the Greeks […] The basic point about friendship is that the two friends are like claimant and rival (but who could tell them apart?) […] Friendship must reconcile the integrity of the essence with the rivalry of claimants. Is this not too great a task? There is indeed [a modern] catastrophe […] it consists in the society of brothers or friends having undergone such an ordeal that brothers and friends can no longer look at each other, or each at himself, without a ‘weariness’, perhaps a ‘mistrust’, which does not suppress friendship but gives it its modern colour and replaces the simple ‘rivalry’ of the Greeks. We are no longer Greeks, and friendship is no longer the same.1

As writer-director Michael Mann has insisted, the apparent symmetry between the personal predicaments of Heat’s protagonists belies a deeper asymmetry. This is already suggested by the staging of its consummation in the central diner scene, shot as an alternation between two ‘overs’ (if the protagonists look into each other’s eyes, our shifted camera viewpoints on them are never quite complementary, each being constrained to leave the other out of frame). This asymmetry is further dramatised in their dreams: Pacino’s Hanna––whose dream substantiates the dissatisfaction of Justice, his wife, that he ‘live[s] among the remains of dead people’––remains deeply invested in the defence of the polis, to the point of maniacal dedication (even if his compulsion is accompanied by the creeping realisation that it cannot be held together). Whereas the dreams of De Niro’s McCauley, sociopath loner (‘I’m alone, I am not lonely’), are haunted only by the fear of not having ‘enough time to do what you wanna do’––it is the brutal and lawless maximisation of finite resources, even when taken to counterproductively compulsive levels, that underlies his principle never to stray more than thirty seconds away from a total disappearance from the social.

Yet this asymmetry itself, between the defender of the city and the Hobbesian outlaw, implies an integral convergence of the two characters’ uncompromising determination to ‘do what I do’ even as it destroys the ‘I’. It is in this convergence that friendship becomes possible. In advance of their arrival at the neutral space of the diner where they enjoy a brief truce, they already occupy the same intimate, sequestered outside––that parallel world, with its icy, alien dynamics, whose momentary intersection with our own Eady will peer through, immobilised and excluded, as in a dream, as the two men sprint towards their final showdown.

Despite appearances, it is not that the relaxed, anonymous setting of Mantalini’s provides a convivial space for personal friendship, based on mutual recognition, briefly to blossom. Friendship––as implacably opposed to politesse, mutual comfort, and social glue as Heat is to a buddy movie––only happens on the outside; between those depths of persons that lurk below the waterline of the social, on the other side of law-as-order. The only destiny for modern (post-political, post-catastrophic) friendship is that it should name a necessary sociopathy, an outside that may be harnessed to the inside, but which does not belong to it, and which exposes this asymmetrical reciprocity.

After the drastic disinvestment of the commons, to pursue ‘the integrity of the essence’ is already to move beyond mutual recognition and rivalry between equals. The integrity of the law and that of the infractor converge outside the city, in an intimate duel. The climactic annihilation of a particular person, whether cop or robber, is merely temporal. For there is ultimately nothing personal about Hanna and McCauley’s friendship; it instances an ideal bond between ‘conceptual personae’ whose subject-positions express a political problematic. In the final scene, even as Hanna comforts the dying McCauley, the survivor gazes into the distance, scanning the city lights for his next quarry, his next friend.

  1. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1991), What is Philosophy?, trans. by Graham Burchell and Hugh Thomlinson, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996, p.107.