MICHAEL MANN Appreciation Thread
It ain’t no secret that I consider Michael Mann to be a truly magnificent and truly talented writer/director. I haven’t seen a BAD Mann film yet (though I have not yet seen The Keep (1983)). I’d rank his films like this: (directed only)
1.The Insider (1999) A+
2.Heat (1995) A+
3.Thief (1981) A
4.Collateral (2004) A
5.Ali – The Director’s Cut (2001) B+
6.Miami Vice (2006) B
7.The Last of the Mohicans (1992) B
8.Manhunter (1986) B-
Mann directs Jamie Foxx on the set of Collateral
Michael Mann grew up in the working class Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park and in 1960 he graduated from high school and attended the University of Wisconsin, to study English literature (for which he would receive a BA). After college, Mann studied at the London Film School, earning his master’s degree in 1967. While there he worked for an ad agency and toned up his directorial skills on commercials, documentaries and short films.
He moved back to the U.S. in the early 70’s and relocated to Los Angeles. He got work writing for such TV shows as “Starsky & Hutch” and “Police Story”. He also wrote the pilot for “Vega$”. His first directorial effort was The Jericho Mile (1979) for which he won a DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Specials and he also won an Emmy for co-writing.
In 1981 came his feature film debut with the crime thriller, Theif starring James Caan. It was received well and was filmed on location in Mann’s hometown of Chicago. Real cops and thiefs were used as technical advisors for the film. In fact some real life cops were used as henchmens while former professional thief John Santucci was used as a cop. The great Dennis Farina is one of the cops used as a henchman.
The film was also praised for being very well done, technically speaking. All the tools used by Frank in the film are real and the vault he breaks into was an authentic vault purchased solely for that scene. And the technique used to break into it was real as well. Though the film never took off, Mann was making a mark in Hollywood.
In 1983 he followed up Theif with the critical and commerical disaster, The Keep. The film was based off of the book by the same name and was about a group of Nazi soldiers who are assigned to gaurd a Romanian Citadel. When the soldiers start dieing they call upon a lonely Jewish man to help figure out whats going on. I have never seen The Keep but I have never heard anything good about it. As far as I know it has never officially been released on DVD. At least not in Region 1.
After the disapointment of The Keep Mann moved back to television. He got a hold of a new cop show that would re-shape cops shows for a new generation. The show was called "Miami Vice". He served as executive producer (and wrote some episodes) for the shows entire five year run. "Vice" was a critical and commercial success. The ratings were great and the show was extremely popular. Because of it's use of popular-at-time music, flashy clothes, fast cars, and the slick, colorful style the show was a success with the "MTV Generation". While some feel the show lost it's steam around season three, the ratings were still good and the showed continued until its final episode aired on June 28, 1989 (an un-aired episode was broadcast several months later). Mann would re-visit Miami over 20 years later for big screen re-telling.
During Vice's run, Mann returned to the big screen in 1986 with the adaptation of Thomas Harris's book "Red Dragon" only retitled to Manhunter. It was the first Hannibal Lecktor film made and is the one often forgot about and swept under the rug. Brett Ratner remade or re-imagined this when he made Red Dragon in 2002. Though I do prefer Manhunter over Red Dragon it does suffer from being dated. It was made on a low budget and it easily shows. The film works as a taught little thriller and William Petersen (Gil Grissom on TV's "CSI") really shines as Will Graham. Thomas Noonan plays the Red Dragon, Francis Dollarhyde. Brian Cox was cast as Lecktor and delivers a performance just as good as Anthony Hopkins would do several years later in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
The film also features the beginning of Mann's trademark visual style. The blues are prominent and the slick and stylish camera angles/shots are present. The use of music also adds to Mann's style as his soundtracks are always greatly thought out to help add to the film rather then distract you. While not one of Mann's greatest achievements it's still a nice little film and it does its job when it needs to.
Still during his "Miami Vice" years Mann started up another cop show. This time set in Chicago and starring Mann regular by this point, Dennis Farina. It was caled "Crime Story" and it only lasted about two seasons.
After Vice ended Mann would write and produce two mini-series about drug cartels. In 1990 there was "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" for which he won another Emmy and in 1992 came "Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel" (1992) for which he recieved an Emmy nomination.
Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe in a scene from The Last of the Mohicans
In 1992 Mann returned to the big screen with the adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. It was recieved well by audiences and critics and took home an Academy Award for Best Sound. Mann has also gone on record as saying that "Mohicans" is a terrible piece of literature but that it was the story that had interested him in the project.
Mohicans remains one of Mann's most under rated films. Day-Lewis delievers a wonderful performance as Hawkeye and the final 20-30 minutes of the film is what makes it a good film. There's also a scene between Wes Studi and Jodhi May towards the end that helps to elevate the film.
It wasn't until 1995 that Michael Mann truly made a huge mark in the industry. In 1989 he had a made a little seen TV movie called "L.A. Takedown". This TV movie was used as blueprint for what has become known as one of the best police dramas ever made, Heat (which he wrote, produced and directed).
Heat was a critical and commerical success and it also made movie history by pairing two screen icons together for the first time. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The two had appeared previously in The Godfather Part II (1974) but were never acutally on screen together. Though in the famous "coffee shop scene" in Heat where these two icons meet they never actually appear in the same frame together. It's all over the shoulder shots which led to speculation that Pacino and De Niro were never on set together at the time of filming. This has been proven false.
Mann speaks with Pacino and De Niro during the shooting of Heat (1995)
The "coffee shop scene" was used as the marketing for the film and is what the film is mostly known for (aside from the shoot-out). Both actors deliever here and the dialogue between the two is marvelous.
Heat remains one of the best films ever made. It's truly a masterpiece of the genre and deserved a lot more praise then it got. It was shunned at the Academy Awards and only made about $68 million domestically. Mann's painstakingly accurate eye for detail helps propell this movie above all others of the same genre. The sounds of the guns are the real sounds those guns make. The cast went through exstensive fire arms training to prepare for what is known as the best shoot-out in cinema history.
Rear windows shatter as the gang pulls a heist at the beginning; De Niro and Kilmer in the shoot-out
The sound of the shoot-out is just absolutley jaw dropping. Hearing the guns echo through-out the streets of L.A. is just glorious to hear. Hearing the bullets tear through the metal of the police cruiser and shatters the windows it just makes you wonder why this film didn't win Best sound at the Oscars. It's truly a travesty that this thing picked up nothing.
Heat is one Mann's best efforts, a truly wonderfull blend of everything he's known for in his films. Great, well written characters, nice slick style, great performances and truly talented cast that included: Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Val Kilmer, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Natalie Portman, Danny Trejo, Tone Loc, Henry Rollins and Jeremy Piven, Wes Studi and Tom Noonan.
One of the more ballsy moves Mann pulled with Heat was that he let the shoot-out happen around the middle of the film. Any other director probably would have had the shoot-out at the end and have Hanna take McCauley down then. But Mann takes his time with these characters. He's still developing them all the way to the end. He even has a knack for making throw away characters important and memorable.