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A guy told me one time, "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."
~ Neil McCauley during his conversation with Vincent Hanna.
We want to hurt no one. We're here for the bank's money, not your money. Your money is insured by the federal government, you're not gonna lose a dime. Think of your families, don't risk your life. Don't try and be a hero.
~ Neil's most famous quote.
Neil McCauley is the protagonist villain of the 1995 epic crime film Heat. He appears as the dark counterpart to his archenemy and the film's other protagonist, Vincent Hanna.
He is a career criminal and former Marine who has spent most of his life robbing banks. McCauley is currently intent on completing one final score before retiring with his financial future secure, and is determined to avoid another stint in jail by any means necessary.
Neil McCauley first appears in the film departing a train station in Los Angeles, where it soon turns out that he and his crew - right-hand man and demolition/construction expert Chris Shiherlis, electronics and communications expert and veteran Michael Cherrito, getaway driver Trejo, and newcomer Waingro - are preparing to launch a heist on an armored truck the following day.
The heist at first seems a success, with McCauley's crew ramming the truck off the road and holding the security guards at gunpoint while they pillage the wreck for valuables. However, the crazed Waingro disobeys orders and executes one of the guards on a whim, forcing McCauley and Cherrito to kill the other two. Later, infuriated with the new recruit's psychopathic disregard for orders, human lives and the additional police attention generated by the deaths, McCauley attempts to kill Waingro, but the unexpected arrival of the police allows him to escape the scene.
Afterwards, McCauley meets up with his fence Nate to discuss the idea of selling the bonds they took from the truck back to his employer, Roger Van Zant, who agrees - but then secretly instructs his men to kill McCauley at the meeting. With backup from his crew, McCauley is able to thwart the ambush and then calls Van Zant to warn him that he will be coming for him next.
As time passes, it is soon revealed that McCauley is living a relatively solitary life, even while his crew have families of their own; as he later relates, this is a practical choice made in order to avoid relationships that might slow him down if he ever needed to escape the heat. However, this does not appear to keep him from honoring his crew's decisions concerning their own relationships, at one point trying to help Chris with his marital difficulties by encouraging his wife to stay with him. Also, despite his aversion to "anything you are not prepared to drop in thirty seconds flat," McCauley gradually forms a relationship with a woman named Eady, though he is careful to avoid mentioning his real line of work.
Later on, McCauley orchestrates a more clandestine heist with Chris and Cherrito, but on the night of the robbery, he realizes that the police are secretly watching and ends up calling off the whole thing - forcing the cops to do the same, as they don't have enough evidence to convict the crew for all the crimes they're suspected of. Nonetheless, McCauley plots to orchestrate a bank robbery worth $12 million, enough to ensure his retirement. Soon after he makes this fateful decision, he is pulled over by police lieutenant Vincent Hanna and offered to go out for coffee. Having accepted, McCauley ends up chatting with Hanna in a café and is surprised to discover that he has a lot in common with the hot-blooded police officer. Nonetheless, he warns Hanna that he will not hesitate to kill him should they meet in the upcoming heist.
Following this conversation, McCauley's crew quickly slip away from police surveillance - to Hanna's immense frustration. However, Trejo suddenly and unexpectedly withdraws from the heist, forcing McCauley to settle for a backup driver in the form of ex-convict Donald Breedan. On the day of the heist, the bank robbery goes ahead as planned; however, Hanna's unit receive an anonymous tip-off, and arrive at the bank just in time to ambush the gang as they leave the building. In the ensuing shootout, Breedan and Cherrito are shot dead, and while Chris is wounded, McCauley is able to help him escape from the area.
After leaving Chris in the care of a private doctor, he suspects that Trejo might have tipped off the police and pays a visit to his house, only to discover that Waingro and Van Zant were the culprits all along - the former having held Trejo's wife hostage in exchange for details on the bank robbery, the latter having tipped off the police with the info. For good measure, Waingro also raped and murdered Trejo's wife and tortured and beat Trejo himself half to death, likely just for the hell of it; badly wounded and unwilling to live on without his wife, Trejo requests a mercy killing, which McCauley provides. Soon after, McCauley tracks down Van Zant and kills him.
By now, Eady is aware of McCauley's criminal double life, but the two of them are able to make hesitant amends, ultimately planning to flee to New Zealand by plane. However, when Hanna discovers Waingro's location, he orders his whereabouts leaked onto various criminal channels in the hope that it might get McCauley's attention - which it does; even with freedom well within reach, the career criminal instead decides to risk it all to avenge the deaths of his crew, and makes a detour to Waingro's hotel, successfully eliminating him.
However, on his way back to Eady, he notices Hanna in pursuit; despite being genuinely in love with Eady, he finally takes his own advice and abandons her. In the final confrontation that follows, McCauley takes refuge in a field outside the airport, only be suddenly exposed by the lights from the departing planes, allowing Hanna to shoot and mortally wound him. In his last moments, McCauley shares one final conversation with Hanna, before he succumbs to his wounds and dies peacefully.
McCauley is a career criminal who is perfectly honorable towards both himself and his crew; though it depends whenever he is doing this to motivate them into focusing on their next heist or if he does truly care about them. Either way, he is a reasonable leader who never mistreats them as long as they don't mess up or draw any unneeded attention.
Despite his interaction with his crew and Eady along with Hanna later on, McCauley appears to be living in a solitary life as he lost his family while he was convicted before becoming a criminal. Because of this, McCauley would go on to accept his fate against Hanna after taking care of every loose ends that infuriated his life.
Although considered to be the film's primary antagonist, Neil appears solely as the protagonist villain who acts as an anti-hero as well as a sympathetic villain due to his respectable nature, while his latest recruit Waingro appears a lot more sinister and violent than McCauley.
His speech in the robbery scene appears in Payday.