I have had an intense connection with loss and betrayal and I have wondered about the concept of loyalty. How are we loyal to one another? How much are people willing to sacrifice to stay loyal to one another? I’m a fan of heist films. I love movies like Ocean’s Eleven and Heat and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where the heroes or heroines must plan a job, break in, find the treasure and escape with it. In those films, there are double-crosses and the characters either get the treasure and they get away with it and ride off into the sunset or sometimes they don’t, and usually there’s a twist at the end. My movie has all the characteristics of a big heist film and it’s exciting, but as I was writing I found I was more interested in the two main characters, their relationship and their need for each other.
I started thinking, “what if there was a heist film that took place where I grew up in the Rocky Mountains, but it was also an intimate look at loyalty and friendship?” Sydney Valentine, the heroine of my screenplay, Diamond Life, is a forty one year old high school math teacher who is fired from her job and loses her husband to divorce. But when Dela Barraza, her former partner and protégé, gets out of jail with the plan for a massive diamond heist, the opportunity arises to get back together and go at it again, just like old times.
The only problem is the unfinished business between Dela and Sydney concerning what happened at the botched job three years before when Dela was caught and thrown in jail. Once the truth is out about where the money went, this puts the new score, their loyalty and friendship all at risk. So Diamond Life is about a couple of diamond thieves with a chance at a big fortune, but mostly it is about an opportunity to absolve a past betrayal and hold on to the most precious thing of all: their friendship.
Heat is the film that commanded me to make movies. I saw it with Chris Kish in Louisville, Colorado, in 1996. It changed me forever. I’ve watched this scene hundreds of times in my life, studying it to see what makes it tick, to make sure that I’ll make something like it someday. Of course, it’s power comes from the nearly three hours that have led up to this point. Just before this final scene, the main “bad guy,” Robert DeNiro’s Neil McCauley, has escaped with his dream girl and has every opportunity to flee and ride off into the sunset, but when he catches wind of one last chance to settle a score with Kevin Gage’s Waingro, a double-crossing animal of a criminal, who severely tainted a score in the first act and who tried to have Neil killed in the beginning of the film, Neil cannot resist and turns away from the escape path. Bad move for him, great for Vincent Hanna, the Al Pacino character who has finally caught up to him. We care for Neil because he follows a code in his world. He is a sociopath, but we still hope he gets away because he has worked so hard and has been through so much to get to this point. Fortunately, director Michael Mann snaps us out of it: ya can’t rob banks, even if it’s your profession. And so this scene is the inevitable conclusion to this world. Neil must be stopped and though he was a criminal, he deserves a compassionate witness to his death, even if that witness is the cop who brought him down.
Watch how Vincent looks off into the distance, wondering how in the world he got there, in the middle of this bizarre, blinking, future field. And Moby’s God Moving Over the Face of the Waters is the final flourish that grants the picture epic status.