Michael Mann: The '00s
Collateral (July 30/04)
Collateral marks Michael Mann's first film since the disappointing Ali, and returns him to the gritty streets of Los Angeles - the scene of his 1995 action masterpiece, Heat. But Mann's decision to shoot Collateral using digital cameras is baffling, particularly when you consider how effectively he's used film in the past. And because the film takes place mostly at night, the lack of celluloid couldn't be more obvious - not so much when the camera isn't moving, but unmistakable during the many frenetic sequences. It's a distracting stylistic choice that certainly doesn't add anything to the movie, and ultimately leaves the audience disconnected from the storyline. The movie - which follows Jamie Foxx's kind taxi driver as he unwittingly crosses paths with Tom Cruise's vicious hitman - boasts precisely the sort of setup that lends itself perfectly to a Michael Mann project; with its exciting action sequences and a cast comprised almost entirely of men, Collateral has Mann's fingerprints all over it. Despite the electrifying subject matter, however, the film never quite becomes anything more than a slightly above average thriller. The whole thing often feels like a rough cut, with certain sequences going on much longer than they should. As a result, Collateral is tremendously uneven - veering wildly between gripping and diverting. Of course, it's the digital cinematography that quickly proves to be the most ineffectual aspect of the movie. Very few films have been able to use this new technology to their benefit - The Blair Witch Project and Session 9 are rare exceptions - with the rest unable to overcome the extremely obvious limitations of the format. It affords the film a feeling of cheapness, as though this weren't a big-budget production starring Tom Cruise; this is the sort of look one expects out of a straight-to-video schlockfest featuring Eric Roberts or Ice-T. Having said that, there's no doubt that Collateral contains a number of exhilarating sequences - particularly a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse between Vincent and Max towards the end. Anchored by two fantastic lead performances - Cruise is completely credible as a stone-cold killer, while Foxx has literally never been better - the film is an ideal piece of summer entertainment. But when you've got someone like Mann behind the camera, it's impossible not to expect more than just a well-made action flick.
Miami Vice (July 25/06)
Were it not for the inclusion of a third-act firefight that's nothing short of magnificent, Miami Vice would assuredly rank among the worst films of the year. Filmmaker Michael Mann, working from the template of the '80s television show he helped create, delivers a dull, mostly interminable saga of cops and robbers that's almost entirely devoid of elements designed to hold the viewer's interest (the aforementioned firefight is one of the few exceptions). Mann, who also wrote the film's screenplay, emphasizes the logistics involved in taking down a massive drug cartel - completely eschewing character development in favor of inscrutable, overly technical chunks of dialogue. And while the movie undoubtedly paints an accurate (if sporadically glamorized) picture of the seedy world its characters inhabit, Mann's failure to provide the viewer with an entry point into the exceedingly complicated storyline ultimately transforms the film into a tedious, distinctly frustrating piece of work. The plot is far too convoluted to effectively summarize, but the underlying thrust of the movie follows undercover cops Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Rico Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) as they infiltrate the illicit network of notorious drug kingpin Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar) and his various underlings. Miami Vice - like Mann's last effort, Collateral - has been shot on digital equipment by director of photography Dion Beebe, and there's simply no denying that the movie consequently possesses a distinctly low-rent, amateurish visual style that's often unreasonably distracting (something that's particularly true during the film's night-time sequences, which are grainy as hell). Mann's decision to employ handheld cinematography only intensifies the film's substandard appearance; that the movie cost a reported $130 million is jaw-dropping, as there's virtually no evidence of that bloated price tag on the screen. Far more problematic, however, is the lack of conflict within much of Miami Vice's running time; we never get the impression that there's anything at stake for Crockett or Tubbs, both of whom are clearly just doing their jobs (as dangerous and life-threatening as their work is, this is the cop-movie equivalent of watching a McDonalds clerk serve people for two hours). And although the movie does pick up around the 90-minute mark - following the kidnapping of someone close to the detectives and that climactic skirmish - there's just no overlooking the fact that virtually everything before that point comes off as disposable and flat-out dull.
Public Enemies marks the latest in an increasingly long line of disappointments from filmmaker Michael Mann, with the less-than-engrossing storyline exacerbated by the director's continued obsession with digital cinematography. It's consequently not surprising to note that the movie is rarely as compelling as Mann clearly wants it to be, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of star Johnny Depp's performance and the presence of an admittedly electrifying climax. The film - which chronicles the last few years of Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger's (Depp) exploits - has been infused with a frustratingly episodic structure that results in a disastrous lack of momentum, with the ensuing plethora of overlong and entirely needless interludes ultimately preventing Public Enemies from sustaining the viewer's interest for more than a few minutes at a time. There's little doubt, however, that the movie's most egregious failing lies in its laughably low-rent visuals, as Mann's head-scratching use of bottom-of-the-barrel HD cameras ensures that each and every shot looks as though it were filmed in somebody's backyard. Public Enemies' shot-on-the-cheap appearance effectively holds the viewer at arm's length from the narrative virtually from start to finish and drains any trace of suspense and excitement from the movie's myriad of shootouts, although - to be fair - it's hard to deny the effectiveness of the surprisingly suspenseful stretch that closes the proceedings. The almost unbearably glossy atmosphere effectively nullifies the efforts of a uniformly strong cast, with Depp's irresistibly charming performance the one bright spot within an otherwise irrelevant piece of work.