Michael Kenneth Mann (born February 5, 1943) is a film director, screenwriter, and producer. Major films include the period epic The Last of the Mohicans, the drama The Insider, the biopic Ali, and the crime films Heat Collateral and Public Enemies.
The Essence of crime
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.