Neil sneaks into a hospital. He blends in with the staff, walking past patients covered in blood in the ER where doctors are working. He goes directly to the carpark and takes an ambulance. Meanwhile, his friend Chris is at a depot buying shape charges. His fake ID is accepted and he walks off with the explosives.
Michael collects Waingro. Waingro’s never worked with this crew before and he can’t stop talking. After a little while of his babbling, Michael silences him by telling him simply to stop talking — calling him Slick. Waingro stops talking. Michael and Waingro take position in their juggernaut and everyone puts on their hockey masks.
The ambulance will block the targeted armoured car and the juggernaut, after a long distance speeding up, will ram it from one side and turn it over. When this happens, the security guards must send a distress call to the police. The crew has exactly three minutes from this silent alarm. The guards are held at gunpoint and the shape charges are placed and fired.
While Neil’s in the van getting the papers, Waingro’s getting upset with the guard he’s got at gunpoint. Michael explains that the liquid coming out of his ears means he’s essentially deaf. Neil signals that he has the package. Waingro boils over and shoots the deaf guard. Immediately, the remaining guards are also killed. A stinger is thrown across the road to deal with the attending police when they arrive. The stolen ambulance is torched.
In the evening, Lt Vincent Hanna arrives at the crime scene. The shape charge means that they’re dealing with technically proficient people. The execution of the guards means that the crew is experienced and that they know the law well — when one was killed, the entire crime jumped from robbery to murder one. On top of this, the bearer bonds, alone worth $1.6m, were the only things taken.
At a diner, the crew reconvenes. Neil’s heists usually work like clockwork and he’s apoplectic with rage at Waingro for his rookie mistake. Little does Waingro know, Michael has already lined the boot of his car — ready to dispose of Waingro’s dead body. The price of failure at this level. But, when a police car goes by, Waingro runs off.
At Vincent’s house, he must sit by and watch his step-daughter get stood up again by her real dad. Then, Justine attacks him for not being there enough for her. He emphasises that his job is often demanding and grotesque and that he protects her from most of it. How can he think of being late for overcooked chicken when he’s got a triple homicide at work to deal with?
At a bar, a graphic designer called Eady starts chatting to Neil. He’s initially frosty, then softens when he sees how hurt she is. By the end of the night, they’re getting on famously. At her hillside apartment, he explains his vision of the future. There’s a place in Fiji where the iridescent algae in the ocean glimmer once a year. He compares the algae to the night-time lights of Los Angeles out there in front of them. He tells her that often he’s alone in his work as a salesman, but not lonely. Later, as she sleeps, he thoughtfully leaves her a glass of water wrapped in a white napkin.
Vincent is keen to put these thieves in jail. He visits a snitch he knows called Albert. He knows that sometimes people like Albert use the police to thin out their competition for them and he starts yelling. Finally, he secures a meeting at 2am with someone in the know that night at a local nightclub.
Chris and Charlene are still fighting over his gambling. Neil visits Chris at his house to help straighten him out. He reminds Chris of the number one gangster rule:
“If you wanna be making moves on the street, have no attachments. Allow nothing to be in your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you see the heat around the corner.” Nevertheless, Chris again tells Neil that the sun still rises and sets with his wife.
Ex-con Donald starts work as a grill man at a diner on the advice of his parole officer. His boss demands he: bus tables, cook and put out the garbage as well as handing over 25% of Donald’s paycheque on payday. Any breaches of these terms will result in complaints to his parole officer — putting Donald back in prison. Donald is a proud man, but he has no choice except to accept these terms — however austere.
At the night club, Vincent meets Albert’s friend Phoenix who says he’s heard a man recently out of prison who calls people Slick. This is great for Vincent — at last, he has a lead. Witnesses at the hockey mask heist earlier reported hearing one of the men call another man Slick. Quickly, the LAPD run this through their criminal database and come up with Michael Turino — the man who told Waingro not to shoot the guard.
The bearer bonds stolen by Neil’s crew earlier belonged originally to Van Zant, a money launderer. He’s upset that people are stealing from him, a resulting, big insurance pay out aside. Neil arranges a meet with one of his men. Chris also comes, hiding at a distance with a sniper’s rifle to protect Neil, just in case. Van Zant’s people attempt a double-cross and there’s bloodshed. Later, Neil discovers what should be a bag full of money is actually a bag containing worthless pieces of torn up paper. Neil calls Van Zant, telling him in no uncertain terms that he’s a dead man.
Neil and his crew are out on the town at a restaurant one night. Unbeknownst to them, they’re being surveilled. Vincent and his team are keenly watching the restaurant from across the road. All men are quickly identified by the LAPD except for Neil. They have no record of him — he’s too elusive.
Waingro has just had his way with a sixteen year old prostitute. Then, he smashes in her skull causing a cerebral haematoma. It turns out this isn’t the first time, either. The girl’s mum is hysterical with grief when she discovers what’s happened. The daughter was found in a particularly gruesome pose, so Vincent catches her and hugs her — preventing her from seeing the gory details and calming her down.
Back at home, Vincent’s wife Justine wants to know why they can’t have a normal marriage — why he doesn’t open up to her. He explains that his angst is too precious. If he doesn’t keep to himself the horrific crimes he sees, he’ll lose his edge. This holding back of gory details at work is the best way he knows of staying alert. He lives with the remains of dead people and not everyone’s up to it.
It’s the dead of night and Neil’s crew are taking down another score. Unbeknownst to them, everything is being watched by Vincent and his team from a concealed vantage point across the street. When one of the policemen accidentally bangs against the metal wall, the thermal imaging cameras they have show Neil is spooked. He goes straight inside to where Chris is drilling the safe and the instruction is given to walk. He drops the drill and immediately leaves the building. If they’re caught walking out of a building empty-handed like this, they’ll each get only six months. Vincent has tactical command over all the police waiting to move in. With some initial pushback, he tells his team to stand down.
Neil briefs his crew. With this heat on them all, it’s wise to assume their phones are all tapped, their houses bugged and that they’re being watched even during this briefing. This is really bad for Neil and his crew. Nonetheless, he offers them all one last bank job. Even though it’s far more dangerous now they’re all being watched, they agree to be involved.
Vincent knows gambler Chris’s wife has been cheating on him. He tracks down the boyfriend to Las Vegas. He then applies pressure to help him trap Charlene’s husband, Chris and, by extension, Neil’s crew. There’s a warrant for Alan’s arrest in New Jersey for smuggling cigarettes three years prior. Alan’s threatened with expedition there if he fails to co-operate.
Neil, Michael and Chris are discussing possible scores and escape routes, using nearby visual cues. They’re in the middle of an oil refinery and a scrapyard. After they’ve left, Vincent and his team come down from their vantage points on surrounding buildings’ rooves to try to figure out what Neil’s planning next. The penny drops first for Vincent. Since these buildings would make for hugely impractical places to rob, it must have all been set up to flush out the cops. Sure enough, Neil and his gang are currently watching the dogged lieutenant and his team from much the same places the police were in minutes earlier. This redresses the balance as far as intel goes. Neil can now talk to his friend Nate to find out who’s been bugging and chasing them. There’s a growing respect between Neil and Vincent after this incident.
Neil gets most of his lucrative criminal scores from Nate, who’s always just a phone call away and knows the word on the street. Neil collects the blueprints for the next bank job at the same time as getting intel about Lt Vincent Hanna. He’s a high school graduate, an ex-marine and he’s dangerous. His home life is in tatters — currently on his third wife. This indicates that he’s always out there prowling for criminals and that he’s dedicated. In this high stakes game, Vincent can afford to miss, Neil cannot. Even with all this extra heat about, Neil decides the bank job is worth the risk.
Vincent gets in a helicopter with a mind to intercepting Neil, but not to arrest him. He’s met by a car and, under blue lights, pulls Neil over. On the roadside, he offers to buy Neil a cup of coffee. We see the two apex predators sitting opposite each other in a roadside café. They discuss their lives and their recurring dreams. They then discuss the nature of how they get their money. Neil dismisses normal life as “barbecues and ball games”. But, Vincent can only defend it. Both men understand that they’re resigned to their fates, since it’s the only thing they know how to do in life. Each explains that, even though they’ve chatted in a pally way like this, they still won’t hesitate in the killing the other when the chips are down.
Vincent gets some terrible news. His team tell him that Neil’s crew have dumped all of Vincent’s surveillance. At exactly 9pm that evening, barely an hour after the meeting for coffee, every last one of the police’s bugging devices was disabled and discarded.
Money launderer Van Zant gets hold of murderer Waingro. Ever since Neil threatened him, Van Zant’s been really scared — camping out in his office with the blinds down. Waingro sees how scared the financier is and starts exaggerating how close he is to Neil. Van Zant really wants to believe him. With Waingro on board, he can maybe now start devising a way of getting to Neil first.
Trejo calls to say he can’t come to the bank job because he can’t shake the cops on his tail. In the diner, Neil recognises the grill man from Folsom prison. Currently without a driver, Neil offers Donald the job instead. He has one opportunity — there and then. He ditches his job at the diner in favour of Neil’s far more exciting opportunity.
Things are tense in downtown Los Angeles. It’s the day of the robbery and it’s a military operation. All of Neil’s crew are wearing earpieces. The men make their way to their agreed places in the bank and, at the planned moment each simultaneously puts on his balaclava. They don’t have long. Bank security guards are brutally hit over the head and otherwise swiftly overpowered. Orders are shouted at staff and customers, people with weak hearts are allowed to lean against the wall, then there’s more bloodshed and screaming as the robbers snatch important keys from unconscious bank staff. The whole crew has unconcealed assault rifles and now use them to bring further order. In the vault, the cash is stuffed into duffel bags. The men each take a bag of cash to the getaway car waiting for them outside.
Vincent is informed of the heist and quickly makes his way to the bank. As he’s driven under blue lights, he’s ordering all surrounding roads to be blocked.
Neil’s crew are already outside the bank each with their big bag full of cash. Vincent reminds his team to watch their background and to wait til all the robbers are in the car together before shooting. Chris sees a police officer and instinctively goes loud. This seems exactly the right way to escalate things, unlike Waingro earlier. He lets off a burst of automatic gunfire and the others understand that they’ve all been rumbled.
Neil’s priorities soon shift from calm to assault when he spots a cop and shoots directly forward through the windscreen of the getaway car, not even allowing himself the time to lean out the window. Donald sadly gets shot and killed. Chris is also shot, but he’s alive. Neil rescues him, then steals a car and they escape. Michael is separated from the others and takes a girl hostage. Vincent is there and from about a hundred feet he picks Michael off as he turns around. He extracts the girl from the dead man and comforts her.
Neil has a doctor available for situations just like this. Chris is going to pull through as long as he gets some rest. Neil’s shirt is bloody and suspicious-looking so he puts a stack of cash on the counter and demands he and the doctor swap shirts right there.
Neil kills Trejo for betraying him to Van Zant. Their escape routes are now considered compromised, so Neil asks Nate for new ones. Nate also gives Neil Van Zant’s home address. Neil heads straight over and throws a chair through his floor to ceiling window while the man’s watching ice hockey. Neil executes the money launderer when it’s established he knows nothing of Waingro’s current whereabouts.
Charlene must stay at Alan’s house which is now brimming with cops. Sergeant Drucker tells her that she’ll have to betray Chris in order to ensure baby Dominic won’t go into care. She really has no choice.
Vincent comes home to find Ralph sitting there in his lounge. He can let a lot of things about this situation slide, but he draws the line at Ralph watching his TV. He tears the TV away from the power outlet and loads it into his car. This could be the closure Justine was looking for.
Neil hears from Nate that Chris has decided to go his own way. As for Neil, he’s still trying to talk graphic designer Eady into fleeing to New Zealand with him. She’s pretty shaken up that he’s turned out to be such a dangerous man — being, at the time, all over the evening news. Eventually, she agrees to fly away with him that night. Meanwhile, when Charlene has the chance to confirm a sighting of Chris for the police, she signals surreptitiously to him to keep going instead of coming to see her and he gets safely away.
Vincent is now giving up trying to catch Neil. Waingro’s being watched by the LAPD at an airport hotel under an assumed name — this is the only real lead and the trail is growing cold. He decides Neil won’t try anything at the hotel — it’s far too risky. He leaves his men watching the hotel room anyway, but otherwise calls it a night and goes home. On the way there, he kicks his TV out of the passenger seat in front of some shocked homeless people at the traffic lights.
When Vincent gets home, he finds the bath overflowed and Lauren unconscious with blood everywhere. He applies tourniquets and rushes her to hospital. He briefs medics there as best he can and meets Justine in the hospital lounge. Lauren makes it out of surgery and her vital signs are stable.
Neil finds out where Waingro is staying from Nate and drives straight there with Eady, who’s completely in the dark. Again, the master of disguise, Neil sneaks into the hotel’s laundry department, then through the uniforms department. He charms Waingro’s room number from concierge in a phone call and walks deftly past front desk. In the lift, he checks his gun. At Waingro’s floor, he wedges a bin in between the lift doors and triggers the fire alarm. All the lifts but his descend automatically to the bottom.
At the hospital, Vincent is paged about the fire alarm going off at the hotel. He’s talking with Justine again who seems to finally understand their situation. She’s never going to have the normal husband she thought she’d get and she allows him to go back to work when his pager goes off.
At the hotel, pretending to be security — complete with flashlight — Neil still walks against the rush of people. He finds the room number, gains entry and executes Waingro. The police watch all this happen. One confronts Neil outside Waingro’s room, but Neil is too quick. The officer is left beaten on the floor.
Downstairs, Eady is still waiting in Neil’s car. Vincent sees her and realises Neil must be close by. At that moment, people everywhere, Neil emerges from the hotel. He can see Eady and now has that famous thirty seconds to decide whether or not to walk out on her — Vincent being the heat around the corner. He considers things, then runs off. Vincent snatches a shotgun from a beat cop and chases after him.
It’s after nightfall and Vincent and Neil are taking pot shots at each other amongst all the planes taxiing and taking off. When he has a clean shot, Vincent shoots Neil several times. But, he takes the man’s hand as he speaks his final few words. “I told you I was never going back.”
Starring Robert De Niro. Al Pacino. Val Kilmer. Rated 15. Dir Michael Mann. Released in the UK 1995. Runtime 2hrs 50mins