The Films of Michael Mann
The Jericho Mile
Thief (July 8/17)
Michael Mann's first theatrical effort, Thief follows James Caan's Frank, a professional safecracker, as he agrees to work for a shady criminal (Robert Prosky's Leo) and subsequently comes to regret that decision. Filmmaker Mann, working from his own screenplay, does an admittedly fantastic job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings, as Thief kicks off with a fairly electrifying sequence detailing an intricate job pulled off by Frank and his crew. It's an almost dialogue-free interlude that immediately sets a tone of gritty realism, with Mann's intensely cinematic modus operandi heightening the impact of this opening stretch. It's perhaps not surprising to note, however, that Thief is never quite able to again deliver such monumental highs during its somewhat overlong running time, as the movie, particularly in its midsection, boasts the feel of a deliberately-paced character study that's peppered with heist-like elements (ie Frank and co. prep for an especially difficult robbery at Leo's behest). The inherently intriguing nature of Frank's exploits goes a long way towards keeping things interesting throughout, while Caan's stellar turn as the volatile protagonist perpetuates the subdued yet often engrossing atmosphere. (It's clear, too, that Prosky steals every single one of his scenes as the movie's increasingly sinister heavy.) By the time the predictably (but spellbindingly) violent climax rolls around, Thief has firmly secured its place as an above average spin on a very familiar storyline.
L.A. Takedown (January 24/15)
Made for television and directed by Michael Mann, L.A. Takedown follows obsessive Los Angeles detective Vincent Hanna (Scott Plank) as he and his team attempt to capture a notorious criminal named Patrick McLaren (Alex McArthur). L.A. Takedown was famously remade for the big screen in 1995 as (the far superior) Heat, and it's nevertheless rather surprising to note just how many similarities there are between the two movies - with Mann including many of the same characters, action beats, and even chunks of dialogue here. (The diner tête-à-tête in Heat, for example, contains an almost word-for-word similarity to L.A. Takedown's version of the sequence.) And although L.A. Takedown is about half the length of Heat, the movie feels so much longer and poorly-paced than its big-screen successor - as Mann, saddled with a roster of somewhat amateurish performers, generally proves unable to transform the film's myriad of characters into wholeheartedly compelling figures. And while there's a certain novelty to seeing iconic moments staged on a much smaller scale - Heat's epic gun battle emerges here as a far more low-key affair - L.A. Takedown is never able to garner any real momentum and the whole thing, for the most part, feels like a novelty item that's best forgotten.
The Last of the Mohicans
Collateral (July 30/04)
Collateral marks Michael Mann's first film since the disappointing Ali, and it 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 considering how effectively he's used film in the past. And because the movie 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 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.
Michael Mann's worst movie to date, Blackhat follows jailed superhacker Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth) as he's released from prison and forced to assist authorities in tracking down a high-level cybercrime network. It's rather astonishing the degree to which Blackhat fails to even partially capture the viewer's attention and interest, as Mann, along with scripter Morgan Davis Foehl, establishes an atmosphere of punishing pointlessness right from the get-go and perpetuates it for the duration of the movie's interminable 133 minute (!) running time. Mann's now-typically uncinematic modus operandi - what is this guy's obsession with shoddy, low-rent digital cinematography? - goes a long way towards exacerbating the movie's thoroughly unwatchable vibe, and it doesn't help, either, that the narrative has been suffused with long stretches in which absolutely nothing of interest occurs (ie it's just a lot of dull chatter about IP addresses and illegal servers). It's clear, too, that Blackhat suffers from an almost total lack of engaging, three-dimensional characters, with Hemsworth's flat (and, frankly, boring) turn as the protagonist merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the film's hopeless inability to offer up a single compelling figure. (Hemsworth's less-than-charismatic turn is made all-the-more-insufferable by Nicholas' ongoing romance of Wei Tang's Lien Chen, with the actress' laughably inept performance compounding the ineffectiveness of the characters' coupling.) Even the action sequences, which should've been the highlight here, manage to disappoint, as Mann infuses such moments with a jittery, documentary-like feel that effectively drains them of their impact and excitement. And although the movie improves slightly in its final half hour - ie the narrative finally simplifies to the extent that one is able to muster up just a smidgen of interest - Blackhat has long since established itself as a total disaster that (hopefully) marks the final nail in the coffin that is Mann's career.