Essay about the cinematic work of Michael Mann at the FAZ online: the article describes Mann as God of Film making, i found another good article at the New York Times, an extensive profile in french is available at Filmdeculte.
Mann is now known primarily as a feature film director and he is considered to be one of America’s top filmmakers. He has a very distinct style that is reflected in his works: his trademarks include ethereal synth scores, such as Jan Hammer’s theme to Miami Vice or the New Age score to Manhunter.
Dante Spinotti is a frequent cinematographer of Mann’s pictures. Mann has an affinity for stark urban landscapes and a visual style which often places an emphasis on soft blues and harsh, sterile whites.
Dillinger at one point was the second most popular man in America after President Roosevelt. And he was a national hero for a good reason. He was robbing the very institutions, the banks, which had afflicted the people for four years, and after four years nothing was getting any better.
The Thief, James Caan plays Frank, an expert jewel thief with a set structure to his life. With a pair of successful Chicago businesses (a sports bar and a car dealership) as fronts for his very lucrative criminal enterprise, Frank sets out to fulfill the missing part of his dream: a family to go along with his loving wife, Jessie. After taking down a major score, Frank’s fence is murdered, and he finds out that the killer is a Mr. Attaglia, a shady plating company excecutive whom the fence was working for, and who subsequently is in possession of money that belongs to Frank. Frank aggressively informs Attaglia that he wants his money back, and later comes to be acquainted with Attaglia’s employer, Leo, a high-level fence and Mafia boss, who wishes to strike a deal with Frank, offering him ‘boxcar’ profits in exchange for Frank’s work
Manhunter, Petersen plays Will Graham, a former FBI agent who captured the infamous Lecter and was almost killed in the process; he is so traumatized by the event that he retires from the FBI. His former partner, Jack Crawford, calls him out of retirement to help find a killer called “The Tooth Fairy” who is murdering entire families. Graham is a profiler who has an uncanny ability to get into the mind of a killer and think as he does. Graham visits Lecter in prison in order to help get back in the state of mind necessary to empathize with a psychopath.
The Last of the Mohicans, The film is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War, in which the British and French battle for control of the North American colonies. Though they are bound by law to aid the British Armies, many colonial settlers are reluctant to leave their homes along the frontier for fear of attacks by Huron Indians.
Heat, Neil McCauley is an expert thief who has centered his life around the creed Do not allow anything into your life that you cannot walk out on in thirty seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner. The term heat in this context refers to the police. He and his crew, including compulsive gambler Chris Shiherlis and ex-con turned family man Michael Cheritto, take part in an elaborate robbery of an armored car. They escape with US$1.6 million in bearer bonds from Malibu Equity Investments, a shell company that launders off-shore drug accounts. Although originally planned as a mere robbery, they end up killing all three guards after the first is executed impulsively by new member Waingro; the second is shot in self-defense and the third simply to leave no witnesses.
Mann received an Emmy in 1979 for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for The Jericho Mile. The following year he was honored by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement for The Jericho Mile. In 1990, he won another Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries for Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. Mann was the recipient of the Humanitas Prize and the Writers Guild of America’s Paul Selvin Award in 2000 for The Insider. In 2005, he received the BAFTA Film Award for co-producing The Aviator.
To date he has received four Academy Award nominations: in 2000, the Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Motion Picture of the Year all for The Insider, in 2005 Mann received nomination for production of Scorsese’s The Aviator.
Mann’s films often contain one to four deadpan male protagonists who are expert in some occupation: undercover policework, high-level crime-work, warfare in colonial America, and the like. Importantly, his films often involve a tragic rather than happy ending, or they involve a combination of tragedy and happy ending, such as in Miami Vice, when of the two undercover police officers, one has his girlfriend (also an undercover officer) come out of a coma and the other tearfully separates from his romantic interest. Mann’s films contain fast-paced, artful, ingenious scenes that strongly depend on powerful music, where often two opposing sides intermix, such as undercover policework and undercover drug trafficking, so that it is hard to distinguish between the two.
For example, in Heat, the criminal and the police detective meet for coffee, as if old business partners. Often it is hard to distinguish between opposing sides (police vs. criminals, etc.), where the actions, dress, and mannerisms of the characters are extremely similar. Also, Mann’s work often involves landscapes and modes where the heroic protagonists occupy a somewhat secret world, away from ordinary concerns (law, life and death, money, daily-life survival duties, family duties, and so on), where the secret world may or may not coincide with ordinary reality.
Protagonists often find impassioned romantic interests which are severed under tragic situations near the end of the film (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Miami Vice). Overall, Mann’s films mix artistry (via music, stylishness and emotional intensity) with sexuality, strong violence, humorless noir-like stoicism, and complex plot twists.