Crime piece

Michael Mann acts as if no other crime movie has ever been made

Michael Mann combines both the realist and abstract tendencies of his work in a rare intertextual moment in Heat.
Mann’s men display superior skills and dominate the terrain they inhabit, they are also increasingly anachronistic figures who experience a sense of “hyperalienation.”

A 65-ft.-wide screen and 500 people reacting to the movie, there is nothing like that experience.

They are out of time: the phrase “time is luck” is used on several occasions in Mann’s films.
It occurs when Neil McCauley returns to his seaside home after the initial heist. He places his gun on the table and stares at the ocean, his back to the camera. This scene is based explicitly on Alex Colville’s Pacific (1967).
As with Manhunter, Mann uses a blue filter, but the tone is noticeably different.

Alex Colville’s Pacific (1967) Alex Colville Pacific

Neil McCauley Michael Mann

Neil McCauley is a key example of Mann’s thematic interest in the ageing white male in contemporary society, or what Thoret has identified as the “Aquarium Syndrome.”

Heat Michael Mann

Mann first had the idea for Heat in the 1970’s when his friend Chuck Adamson, ex-Chicago cop and later technical advisor on Mann’s feature debut, Thief, told him how he’d bumped into a criminal he was keeping tabs on in the parking lot outside his local laundry.

Titans Michael Mann

It is fitting that for the final “symphonic drama”, as he calls it, the signature scene that would psychologically penetrate both cop and criminal’s mindset so clearly should have percolated so long – 1995. Time enough for modern American cinema’s two titans to mature and appear on screen together for the first time.

Collateral Michael Mann

LA cabbie Max Durocher is the type of person who can wax poetic about other people’s lives, which impresses U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Annie Farrell, one of his fares, so much that she gives him her telephone number at the end of her ride.


Being Michael Mann's feature film directorial debut, Thief showcases many of the cinematic techniques that would be his trademarks in the years to come. Chief among these is the cinematography, utilizing light and shadow to give the proceedings, especially those taking place in the darkness of night, a sense of danger. The film also earns plaudits for its meticulous attention to detail: the tools and techniques of the trade, right down to the oxy lance used to penetrate a safe, are authentic, the result of Mann's decision to hire real-life thieves to serve as technical advisers.


Although a dedicated man as seen through the efficiency in which he does his work, he can’t or won’t translate that eloquence into a better life for himself.

LA cabbie Max Durocher is the type of person who can wax poetic about other people’s lives, which impresses U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Annie Farrell, one of his fares, so much that she gives him her telephone number at the end of her ride.

In the film’s DVD commentary, Michael Mann said that the general theme of Collateral is the clashing of ideals behind the two main characters. Vincent lives his life by improvisation and living in the moment.

He deludes himself into believing that his now twelve year cabbie job is temporary and that someday he will own his own limousine service. He even lies to his hospitalized mother that he already owns one, with a further lie that he tells her as such primarily to make her happy, rather than the truth which is that he won’t do anything to achieve that dream. One night, Max picks up a well dressed man named Vincent, who asks Max to be his only fare for the evening. For a flat fee of $600, plus an extra $100 if he gets to the airport on time – Vincent wants Max to drive him to five stops.


Michael Mann

Miami Vice

There is a similar moment in Miami Vice when the police visit a rich criminal at his lavish waterfront home. Sonny Crockett’s attention wanders away from the conversation for a few seconds. He stares through a large window out at the ocean. Is he bored? Is he thinking of the opportunities to shed his identity that working undercover will bring? Does Sonny envision Isabella, a woman without borders, before they have met?

On other occasions in Mann’s films windows function as a transparent boundary between the aquarium and the world beyond. When they occur we become aware of the characters’ loneliness, dissatisfaction with life or desire for transformation. Neil gazes at the Pacific in the scene from Heat
based explicitly on Alex Colville’s Pacific (1967).


On a given picture with a standout composer, like Elliot Goldenthal, who I think is one of the more extraordinary composers working today, I will use only his score because I want the picture to have a unified sensibility, like in "Heat" or "Public Enemies".

Miami Vice

Miami is one of these great places that is a really sensual, physically beautiful place.


"What's "Thief" to you?": To me, it's a left-extensionalist critique of corporate capitalism. That's what "Thief" is. What is interesting is that no critics in the U.S. got that, no critics in the U.K. got it. Every critic in France got it when the film came it. It was like this crazy kind of cultural litmus test or something.

The Thief

The style of Michael Mann


"Collateral" was beautiful in digital projection if you were in a theater that had digital projection. The problem was that it had photochemical release prints, which the labs knocked out with 'tolerances' that were a joke. A print any director would reject was fine as far as the lab was concerned. So, getting what I made digitally, to photochemical release printing was a nightmare. Now, with digital cinema being ubiquitous, it's great.