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To this connection between the work-obsessed criminals and police in HEAT, the conflict between work and personal life, and the contemporary audience I now turn. If "greed is good" became a pop culture mantra of the s, the s have revealed how much time people spend at work. Citing a flurry of public discussion about overwork, economist Juliet Schorr writes, "The time squeeze has become big news. The U. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that from to ,. The average employed woman increased her work year by hours, or nearly six full weeks. Hours have risen for men as well as women, for those in the working class as well as professionals.
They have grown for all marital statuses and income groups. The increase also spans a wide range of industries. Schorr shows that the recession of the late s sent work hours climbing in two different ways. On the one hand, employers have required longer hours and more productivity; on the other hand, workers have to put in more hours to maintain their standard of living against falling wages.
But it is not simply that people are working longer hours, they are also discussing the phenomena more. The late s and early s saw the production of a substantial literature on the longer hours people were spending at work and on the effort to balance work and family or work and leisure. Segments on television news programs developed the theme as did commentary in both the business trade press and in general interest magazines. Although many people would like to be able to work fewer hours, many others are not interested in cutting back on their work time.
In her study of workers and managers at a midwestern corporation, sociologist Arlie Hochschild observed that many workers find work to be a more rewarding and less stressful environment than home. Hochschild argues that longer work hours not only leave less time for household chores and leisure time, but they also create tension about how to use the diminishing time after work. Thus, not only do people have less time, they argue about how to deal with it. The emotional magnets beneath home and workplace are in the process of being reversed. In truth, there are many versions of this reversal going on, some more far-reaching than others.
Some people find in work a respite from the emotional tangles at home. Others virtually many their work, investing it with an emotional significance once reserved for family, while hesitating to trust loved ones at home. Thus, Hochschild finds that many workers found in their jobs a haven from the unresolved personal and time-management issues at home. She argues that not only are many workers overworked, their response to the situation is to spend more time at work, where problems seem comparatively manageable and where they can avoid irritated spouses and families.
They work all hours of the day and night, leaving no time for personal life. For example, when not at work McCauley finds himself falling in love with Eady, which threatens to violate his own work rules, but at home, Eady either works at her graphic design business or waits for McCauley to call.
In the film, home is where their time and energy can be claimed by someone else and problems seem insurmountable. Thus, home equals strife while work is where things are relatively under control. Neither Hanna nor McCauley complain about the long hours. Work is, indeed, where the criminal crew and the police prefer to be. During planning and execution of the heists the crew remains focused and can work together and manage problems. Similarly, the police work well together and work all the time.
Furthermore, the main characters like their jobs. HEAT's version of the traditional gangster film mantra, "This is a business," might well be Cheritto's assessment of the heists: "For me the action is the juice. In addressing these issues, HEAT offers pop cultural evidence of and commentary on overwork and its personal tolls. The film thematizes a topic already on the minds of its potential audience: the increasing dominance of work in the 90s over other facets of life. Longer work hours among potential viewers as well as increased media interest in the phenomenon make Hanna and McCauley stand-ins for entire sections of the population.
Workers at all levels work longer hours and try to avoid confrontations with family members over their reduced availability at home. Michael Mann describes his characters as anomalous, badly adjusted people:. The other is But, these studies suggest that HEAT in the guise of a gangster film depicts what has become an everyday problem — the incommensurable demands of work and home. As HIAT sets up several traditional gangster film categories, it invests its characters less traditional combinations of traits and situations: chaotic cop versus orderly robber, good guy cop versus good guy robber, cop and robber versus the real bad guys, work life versus home life.
One reviewer of the film argued that. HEAT, however, raises not just the question of shared temperament or shared circumstances but also that of the conventional overlap between the forces of law and order, the cop, and the good guy, on the one hand, and the forces of social disorder, the gangster, and the bad guy, on the other. By the end of the classical genre film the gangster lies dead in the street, he is the bad guy, and social order is restored.
In HEAT, however, the gangster and the cop are relatively sympathetic, and the forces of disorder and chaos are parsed out to several characters. As several critics point out, while McCauley is "orderly and calculating," Hanna is "disorderly and incautious. Two characters, Waingro and VanZant, bear the combined weight of being the unsympathetic characters and representing the forces of chaos that must be vanquished. Waingro quickly proves that he does not fit in with the gang, and he turns out to be the least sympathetic character in the film. He has no special skills; indeed, his trigger-happiness botches the first heist.
Within the vernacular of the film, he is coded as working class. He doesn't dress well, is comparatively unkempt, and, in case we did not get the idea, he has a swastika tattooed on his chest. He murders a prostitute, which is apparently a serial behavior. He eventually hooks up with VanZant in order to betray McCauley's crew to the police.
Most important, his actions are motivated by bloodlust, not by the desire to work and support himself that animates the others. His violence, unnecessary and uncontrolled, brings chaos and murder to the heist. Waingro clearly represents the most disorderly forces in HEAT's society. While Waingro's activities are clearly illegal and unacceptable even within the canted ethical regime of the crew, VanZant and his employees are presented as unsympathetic even before they plan to do anything illegal. VanZant is the only person in the film who works at a desk in an office, at somewhat regular hours, doing something legal.
He moves other people's possibly dirty money around between accounts and investments. By acting on his feelings of personal affront, VanZant fails to make the "disciplined" as McCauley says business decision; this creates chaos as well. Finally, Waingro and VanZant's collaboration in betraying the crew create the circumstances under which McCauley, too, makes an unreasonable decision: instead of escaping directly, McCauley stops to kill Waingro. Both the rest of the gang and the police express contempt for and target Waingro and VanZant.
The police and the gang share not only our sympathy and a contempt for Waingro and VanZant, but also a love of their jobs that transcends the traditional genre motivation. Unlike in earlier gangster film cycles, work does not come from immigrant striving or revenge for past wrong, or just represent an illegal and lucrative way of applying technical skills. Detective Bannion sheds his previous life in order to pursue the criminal gang, but his devotion to the job is motivated by his wife's murder.
Vincent Hanna's obsession with work does not derive from family circumstance but rather competes with it. When faced with a choice between family and work, Hanna always chooses work — a consistency that Justine announces. The gang except Chris make that choice just as plainly. Thus, in HEAT work "the juice" has become an end in itself. Work's displacement of personal life lends a new set of meanings to the gangsters lying dead in the streets. Robert Warshow, writing in the s, argues that by depicting the work of the gangster as a "rational enterprise," the genre suggests continuity between the gangster's business and the determination of all capitalist enterprises to succeed:.
The screen gangster is punished for his success as a small comfort to those in the audience who suffer from a lack of economic opportunity. This implicitly suggests moral superiority for those who don't succeed, i. Jack Shadoian, too, argues that the gangster film is an allegory of business in which the over-achiever gets punished for his striving:. The gangster functions as the scapegoat for such desire.
The equation of crime and business further supports the view that crime films are often disguised parables of social mobility as a punishable deviation from one's assigned place. Shadoian argues that in spite of the ideology of the U. Thomas Schatz argues that the gangster and the business person have similar values, but the gangster has gone too far. He writes,. This formulation has a radical critical potential, although Schatz's observation is specifically addressed to the personality and self-presentation of the gangster — his need to swagger and assert his authority.
The continuity between efforts deemed normal, or even "positive," and the "anti-social" must be redirected to describe not just the gangster's values or his personality, but also his actions. That is to say, it is not only the "perverse alter-ego" of the businessman that is represented, but his job and how he goes about it-whether his job is running his company or an industry or planning the crime that will allow him to retire to the country.
In HEAT, the particular virtue of the profit-minded male that is rendered with such force is the primacy of professional life — that one must evaluate every situation in light of its impact on one's ability to do the job. As we have seen, a high level of commitment to a job, or at least the willingness and even desire of many to work longer hours, is already taken for granted by many employers and employees.
Thus, the lack of balance between work and personal life that earlier gangster film cycles critiqued has already become the norm in the contemporary marketplace; HEAT seems to represent only a difference in degree. So in HEAT's society, what is left to be lost through a lopsided devotion to work? For Warshow and Shadoian, the costs of success are a sense of humanity in our business dealings and the possible improvement of our material circumstances, respectively. In HEAT and very likely in many real industries the former is already irrevocably lost, and the latter is thoroughly taken for granted even ex-cons become wealthy if they are smart and disciplined, can cooperate, and work hard enough.
But, there is still something left to lose in our zeal to do our jobs: a personal life that is its own reward. Thus, HEAT's audience might also draw an altered version of Warshow's and Shadoian's morals: success requires working so much and with such tight focus that one loses everything else. At the end of HEAT we get the traditional genre ending: the gangsters lie dead in the streets, parking lots, and airports of L.
Yet there is hardly the sense that order is restored. Those left standing at the end of HEAT do not even temporarily resolve the most profound cultural contradictions of the film; indeed the resolution reveals the flaws in the value system of HEAT's "personable and aggressive self-made American man. The film apparently casts a cold eye on any commitment to a personal life. All but one of the main characters leave their partners. Hanna leaves Justine and their marriage at the hospital in order to pursue McCauley.
Cheritto chooses work over a financially secure life with his family and dies during the heist. Breedan chooses the big score over his girlfriend and her pride in his effort to go straight. McCauley chooses to kill Waingro rather than head out of town, and as a result he abandons Eady, who is waiting for him in the car. Yet, no one emerges alive from this choice except Hanna. So, choosing work over home ultimately offers no guarantee of success in the profession. Indeed, only viewed quite narrowly does the outcome represent a triumph for Hanna or for the discipline of these workaholics.
Although the bad guys and the most of the gangsters are dead, it was not via an orderly police operation — or any police operation at all in several cases. Waingro and VanZant were killed not by the police, but by McCauley. Trejo the original driver was killed not by the police, but by Waingro. Furthermore, the hail of bullets that usually brings down the gangster instead kills more police officers than thieves.
Hanna is alive, but he has lost several of his crew and his marriage. The exception to all of these choices, of course, is Chris, whose "sun rises and sets with" his wife. His participation in the final heist is presented as an attempt to square his situation at home rather than as a job done for the thrill and the challenge. He is the one member of the gang who chose home life over work, and although he is injured, he is not dead. Furthermore, in spite of their past troubles, Charlene cannot bring herself to betray Chris to the police, although her freedom and that of their son is potentially at stake.
Although Chris and Charlene value their relationship more than his job or her safety, this does not protect them from the fallout of Chris's profession: they are not physically together in the aftermath of the final heist — although the film allows the possibility that they will reunite. HEAT'S final twist is that it deploys the classical genre ending in lieu of superficially or temporarily resolving the conflicts that disturb the community. The relocation of the conflict — shared by both police and thieves — to an individual decision to reject personal life in favor of work supplants any effort of HEAT'S community to find balance among competing values.
People who are not very different from the audience die, the women are left behind, and the cost of law and order is at least six households. The film's resolution offers us the grim notion that work requires abandoning those we care about; arid then it will probably kill us. Choosing not to sacrifice home life to work will not, however, insulate a relationship from harm. Thus, the accommodation to the status quo that the genre film usually offers to the audience is in HEAT a bitter pill: work rules fatally, and proclaiming the value of our personal lives will not rescue us from professional demands.
HEAT leaves the new conflict that it depicts — the place of work itself — unresolved and unresolvable. For the wedding of Carlijn Holtrop and Jos Janssen. Thanks to my indulgent, mostly entertaining students in the winter gangster films genre seminar at Northwestern University, and also to Chuck Kleinhans, Julia Lesage, and Tom Gunning for their helpful comments.
Although both men and women do the "work" of relationships in the film, the women are largely defined by it. The gender- and race-based division of labor in the film is not as total or glaring as in many Hollywood productions. Eady is an educated professional and Charlene seems to do the family's financial books, but the primary role of the female characters is to represent domestic attachments and make emotional and other demands on their husbands. Only Waingro, who is pegged as working class or lumpen, seems to have no work skills.
HEAT's rendering of the literal attractiveness of the lifestyle may make it easy to conclude, as one might from many pop-cultural products, that these attractive, hard-working people have a right to the beautiful things they own. Although the audience knows Waingro committed the murder, it is unclear that the police ever figure this out. So the only narrative functions of the scenes of Waingro's murdering a prostitute and Hanna's going to investigate are to make Hanna leave his social group's festivities, prompting his wife to say she only gets the leftovers from his work time, and second, to show Waingro, unlike the other members of the gang, as driven by murderousness rather than clean professional thievery.
Interest in the how-to of criminal activities certainly predates prohibition. In fact one of the first elements of the cinema to cause alarm was the appearance of crime films, which reformers felt showed too much detail about committing crimes; see, for example, Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets New York: Macmillan, , Nonetheless, interest in the lifestyles of the gangster increased with Prohibition. Ruth, Cohn MeArthur, Kaminsky cites the caper film as a subgenre of the action-process film; however, the heist film has strong thematic ties to the gangster film, especially to the gangster film's perennial interest in issues of the composition and hierarchy of the criminal organization and its relation to more legal ways of being a skilled business person.
Although it is a different project, I suggest it may be fruitful to see the heist film as a new cycle in the gangster film. Kaminsky argues that the caper film addresses feared loss of meaningful individuality in the corporate culture of the post-war era, returning to some of the same issues to which the classic gangster films of the early s were responding. Of the s, David Ruth writes,. At the same time, many advertisers detected widespread fears that individuals had become insignificant parts of an undifferentiated crowd.
For most people, however, a more pressing problem was probably that of access to these goods in the first place c. By the s, corporate organizations and mass-produced goods were dominant enough to foster a voluminous literature on concerns about conformity in work and leisure. Jonathan Mumby makes a related argument about the similar concerns of film noir and the gangster film cycle of the early s:. The postwar crime cycle we now call film noir was received as an awkward reminder of problems whose resolution had been postponed by the need to prosecute the war.
The point is then hammered home by Scorsese's ironic use of the Sex Pistols' cover of "My Way" on the soundtrack. This description of the heist film also sounds like planning to make a movie — especially during the demise of the studio system. The heist film's focus on the plan-for-sale, the search for a money man, the composition of a group of people with complementary skills, all for a specific heist resembles the effort to put together a package for a film.
This suggests another relevant point about the heist film and its historical context. Not only were studios relying on independent firms and outside deals for directors and stars for their films, banks were puffing together financing packages on a film-by-film basis. Thus, the heist film genre, which might be seen as an allegory of producing an independent film, gets going just as independent film production becomes the norm.
Popular culture has a long history of reproducing or representing the use of work skills in service of either illegal or anti-productive ends. For example, in discussing the appeal of amusement parks at turn-of-the-century Coney Island, John Kasson points out that often the games reproduced the repetitive physical motions and time pressures of factory work, but in an anti-productive fashion.
There are many filmic versions of such parallels between games and work, or apparently unrelated skills. McCauley takes on a paternal role relative to Chris and Charlene, mediating between them and offering to support Charlene and her child if Chris cannot live up to her demands. This, together with the dinner party scenes, is reminiscent of the gangster genie's depiction of the mob as a surrogate family for its members.
Ironically, McCauley's decision to kill Waingro and therefore leave Eady is arguably his most uncharacteristic i. Killing VanZant might be seen as the unhappy but unsurprising conclusion to a business deal gone wrong, as might the hunt for Waingro. However, by the time that Mccauley goes after Waingro, the risks are too high for the decision to be rational, a fact noted by Nate, who, when telling McCauley where Waingro is hiding, says that it probably doesn't matter anymore. So if McCauley had simply left the country with Eady, he might have lived.
Schorr's study of the years obtained similar numbers, with a slightly higher increase among women. Although in a different context, Laura Kipnis argues that personal relationships themselves are increasingly understood, talked about, and analyzed as "work. Or, perhaps because he has time to watch television: VanZant is also the only character we see having leisure time at home — he is sifting in front of the TV watching hockey.
This is just before McCauley arrives to ask after the whereabouts of Waingro and then murders VanZant. Diamond, Jamie. Hochschild, Arlie. New York: Metropolitan Books, Maslin, Janet. Mumby, Jonathan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Schorr, Juliet. New York: Basic Books, Shadoian, Jack. He seems to think of life as something you build, piece by piece, getting the ingredients together the way he prepares for a job: Methodical, mechanical, detail-oriented.
He wants a wife, so he simply lays out the score for Jessie Tuesday Weld , a damaged woman who agrees to throw in with him. Thief opens with a lengthy depiction of a robbery job, with Mann cutting around to each participant, showing his role in the plan. The gang cuts through a safe with a tremendous blowtorch rig, and Mann lingers lovingly over the sparks flying up from the super-heated metal as it slices into the door. He captures the white-hot tip of the torch, the yellow glow of the melting metal, the white fog that drifts around the room from the fire extinguisher.
It becomes sensual and stylized, not just a depiction of a practical process but a celebration of heat and light and energy in this enclosed space. JB: I agree. But all those long sequences of Frank at work reveal who he is and what he stands for. Thieves in the movies who claim to be the best at what they do are a dime a dozen.
Frank stands out, as does the gang from Heat , because he proves it. He walks the walk. Instead, Frank gets more out of a saw, crowbar and drill than the next guy. Thus, to watch Frank is to know who he is, not just professionally but personally. Mann is almost unrivaled in his ability to bring us into the action in the opening fifteen minutes.
Not to mention that after the movie-opening heist we watch Frank relax by sitting on a dock and sharing a view of an almost surreal sunrise that now recalls a similar shot of a sunset from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But, again, I digress. EH: Interesting that these comparisons to Fincher keep coming up. Both directors are definitely interested in process, though arguably Fincher uses a focus on process as a way of exploring his signature themes, while for Mann the procedures and routines of work are windows into the souls of his characters.
Also, in the spirit of digression, one of the least remarked-upon aspects of Thief is doubtless how quirky and strange the film can be in isolated moments. But the film is packed with odd little moments of humor and eccentric details that waft around the fringes of the narrative. When people talk about Mann, they tend to give the impression that the films are tough and violent, testosterone-driven, grim and relentless.
JB: Exactly. Frank gives Jessie the opportunity to reengage with life. From that perspective, it would be reckless not to follow him. But for me, time has been far kinder to Thief than to Manhunter. Many of the upbeat pop tunes packed into the film sit uneasily against the dark mood of the material; the music often seems more appropriate for a Rocky sequel than this tense, immersive police procedural. Similarly, the sex scene between the serial killer Dollarhyde and his blind lover Reba Joan Allen is laughably cheesy and overblown, as are many of the other moments between this unlikely pair.
What the hell was up with Dollarhyde taking Reba to feel up a tiger, anyway? The periodic use of stuttery jump cuts is especially distracting, and seemingly unmotivated. These jump cuts turn the poorly staged final fight scene into a muddle of disconnected shots and unclear action.
That all this build-up dissipates into such a lackluster fight scene indicates that Mann was still several years away from the masterful, large-scale battle scenes of The Last of the Mohicans and Heat. Like Thief , this is at heart a film about family and the desire for family.
Serial killer profiler Will Graham William Petersen is a family man, and his wife Molly Kim Greist and fair-haired son Kevin David Seaman appear in the opening scenes as a vision of happiness and contentment. Graham is a man who has forgotten his dark past and settled into a peaceful, idyllic existence by the seashore with his family. This idyll is disrupted when Graham learns of the serial killer nicknamed the Tooth Fairy, who is killing entire families. The killer traces his prey through home movies, records of mundane happiness around the home, and Graham, following the killer without realizing it at first, grows acquainted with the victims through the same means.
Graham, unlike other Mann heroes, has these things, and wants to protect them. JB: At the least, Mann might be claiming that seaside view for himself. In The Insider , Jeffrey Wigand looks out over water while deciding whether or not to break his confidentiality agreement. In Collateral , Max keeps a postcard picture of an island on the backside of his visor as a way to find tranquility. And, of course, Miami Vice has water, water everywhere.
There are at least three scenes in which Will, sitting alone, gets all worked up and begins shouting into the nothingness, cursing at the Tooth Fairy, and each of them is awkward. Having made that argument, though, which is subjective to begin with, allow me to discredit it. Our current decade seems doomed to be remembered for its excessive and frequently pointless use of shakycam; fads rarely age with dignity.
If so, is it fair or foul to conclude that Manhunter has a relatively short shelf-life mainly because its then-contemporary trends proved to have a short shelf-life? The point is, music is particularly subject to rapid dating and rapid shifts in style, so when your soundtrack is a collage of hot current tunes, you run the risk of being out of date in a few short years. The killer and his pursuer as mirror image reflections of one another? The killer who feels like an outcast because of a physical deformity and a lack of love in his childhood?
Double yawn. JB: Yeah, that sounds about right. Indeed, the ubiquity of serial killer psychodramas and police procedurals must have dulled any edge Manhunter once had. Perhaps Mann sensed that. Yet the most astonishing thing of all is how naturally Mann works within the genre. Sure, there are battles galore in The Last of the Mohicans , but if Mann had an urge to modernize the action in this picture, he resisted it. Rather than force his visual aesthetic onto Mohicans , Mann made his mark in the dramatic themes: The loner hero; the object of affection who falls in love quickly and fully and brings salvation to the hero; the need of the hero to finish the fight; the largely tragic though admittedly not completely tragic conclusion.
How about you? Despite the uncharacteristic setting, Mann does still find a way to incorporate his signature striking images: The nighttime siege on Fort William Henry, with cannons bursting red and orange through drifting gunsmoke, is pure Mann, as abstract and dangerously beautiful as the showers of welding sparks in Thief.
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Moreover, the action sequences are as viscerally exciting as those in Heat. In the hand-to-hand fight sequences, each bullet is felt as it rips through flesh, each tomahawk leaves its mark as it hits. Mann emphasizes the sickly thud of hard objects hitting soft flesh, and the battles are all the more effective for this emphasis on viscera. Mann prefers to get right in there, making us feel the violence rather than just see it.
I must admit, however, that despite the thrilling plot I have a hard time getting into the film on a deeper level. The result is that the film feels like somewhat schematic Mann. There are passages of bravura filmmaking here, to be sure, but the overall impression is of a solid action epic with generic if well-acted characters. So what am I missing? JB: Um, nothing. However, I think this film works a little differently than the others.
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But we know better. And so without meaning to imply that great filmmakers are flawless, and at the risk of sounding like an apologist, I think Mann is going for something else here. Think of it this way: If one could turn down the often troublesome dialogue in this film and leave only the score, the sounds of battle including those chilling Mohawk screams before the second ambush of the British and the sounds of nature, would we miss anything? More importantly, would we miss any of the meaning? Hawkeye, Cora and Magua—you know them just to look at them.
After the verbal showdown with Magua in front of the Huron leader, the remainder of the film is largely visual, with hardly another word spoken until the final scene. She steps to the edge and Mann focuses on her face, as she first looks down for a long time, eyeing the fall ahead of her, thinking carefully, then looks up for a haunting closeup, her eyes filled with defiance and resignation. Mann inserts shots of Magua lowering his knife before he gestures to the girl, brusquely, just a wave of his fingers for her to come back to him; you can see he fully expects her to comply.
And then she lets herself drop instead. The way Mann cuts back and forth between the two characters infuses each movement, each facial expression, with incredible import. If someone who was completely unfamiliar with Mann wanted to know what he was all about, this is the film to point them towards, the film that contains the essence of his cinema. JB: Heat is a classic. But Heat is sumptuous, powerful, visceral and lyrical. I must have seen Heat a dozen times by now, and each viewing is a little different, each viewing reveals something more, or speaks to me with different intonations.
But all this would be hard to explain to that hypothetical Mann virgin that you mentioned earlier. The film has moments where it approaches the moody meandering of Thief —like that conversation you mention between Neil and Eady, which has always seemed distractingly unreal to me, the actors very distinct from the background—but for the most part its tone is operatic and grand.
At least, the surface of the film is operatic. In fact, Mann is working on multiple levels here. A good example is the way Mann develops the parallels between Neil and Vincent, who exist as mirror images of one another, both driven professionals who have sacrificed the stability of a home life for their careers. The two men actually meet face to face only twice in the film, once in the famous coffee shop scene you mention, and again at the end of the film. The first of these scenes takes place during the failed platinum robbery, when Neil steps outside as a lookout and hears a noise from across the street, where Vincent and his men are hiding.
Mann cuts back and forth between the two men in degree reaction shots, as though they were together in the same room, face to face. The shots progressively focus more and more on their eyes, and this sequence creates the illusion that they are staring one another down, even though Neil cannot see Vincent and Vincent sees only a blue-tinted night-vision image of his adversary.
This dynamic is then reversed for the sequence where Neil cleverly gets the cops to expose themselves at a shipping yard, while he hides high above them snapping pictures. In effect, before Neil and Vincent actually meet, they have studied one another with voyeuristic intensity, taking turns as voyeur and subject, as hunter and prey.
Nevertheless, Neil and Vincent are indeed soul mates—two devout loners who understand one another in a way that no one else could, who are brought together precisely because of the strict adherence to their principles that keeps everyone else away. They see in one another a worthy foe at last! It also evokes their isolation. Given that Mann had the juicy opportunity to give De Niro and Pacino their inaugural big-screen pairing, it must have taken tremendous will power on his part to refrain from using a traditional two-shot during the now famous coffee shop scene, instead always shooting over the shoulder of one of the actors and into the face of the other, but the result is genius.
By avoiding the two-shot, Mann allows the characters to maintain a safe distance from one another, as if the table between them is an endless abyss. He has the confidence to simply suggest things that other directors would doubtless tell us outright. The precision of his filmmaking allows him to explore themes and ideas that hardly ever bubble up to the surface of his dialogue. Instead, the accumulation of small details tells us a lot about the characters and their lives.
This shot recurs several times, and in one iteration Mann shoots from an angle where the gun is emphasized in the foreground as Neil recedes into the background, walking away from the camera. Neil, in contrast, only wishes that he was putting down his gun to pick up another role for a change. His apartment is nice but empty, nearly devoid of furniture, and when he places his gun down all he has to do is stare out the window.
Mann is frequently able to draw out nuanced emotions from his formalist and symbolic filmmaking, using these meticulous parallels in his editing and compositions to explore the ways in which the characters relate to one another. Again, Mann repeatedly cuts in degree countershots between Chris and Charlene, her up above on the balcony, him below getting out of his car.
Mann cuts between his smiling face, a broad grin spreading as he sees her, and her stoic, distanced expression. JB: The goodbye between Chris and Charlene is one of those subtle, nuance-filled moments that seem ripe for reexamination each time. Kilmer handles it nicely. He has never looked so at ease as he is here, blazing away with a sub-machine-gun.
The same goes for Tom Sizemore, whose unique blend of affability and psychosis makes him the perfect Michael Cheritto, the loyal friend who is also a little desperate. The same goes for Dennis Haysbert as Donald Breedan, the guy newly out of prison and trying to stay straight, who in just a few scenes makes Donald so endearing that we regard his involvement in the bank heist as a tragedy even before he loses his life.
The same goes for Waingro portrayer Kevin Gage, who makes the usually suicidal decision to play his character as an outright sociopath but manages to avoid slipping into camp. The right woman for Neil?
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The surrealism of the composition reflects how when any two people fall in love, they feel like characters at the center of a cinematic romance. In the first blush of passion, even these two loners get to be Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, if only for one night. Domesticity and tragedy collide within the frame, and the grief of a character we hardly know is suddenly crystallized.
Of course, there are also the two dinner scenes—more mirroring between cops and robbers—where an accumulation of details increasingly isolates Vincent and Neil from their respective friends.
As the other men tell jokes, flirt with their women, bullshit and laugh, the two leads subtly draw back. Those dinner scenes mark moments in which Neil and Vincent cannot ignore their detachment. As much as they might pride themselves on their commitment and focus, there is, as Neil would say, a flipside to that coin. For all his attention to detail, Mann allows his characters to say some awfully goofy things. Insert Miami Vice mojitos joke here. At least once per film a character will say something that will sound like laughable melodrama, poetic genius or something in between—a non sequitur.
I take scores. The line comes when Neil and his partners discover that they are under F. The bank job has yet to be pulled and while the reward would be high, now the risk might be even higher. No one backs down, not even Michael Cheritto, who Neil encourages to walk away. By the same token, while the characters in Heat live and breathe far beyond the confines of the plot, in some of his other work Miami Vice , especially the characters tend more towards archetypes or, less generously, stereotypes , cardboard genre constructs inserted mechanically into the narrative structure.
As we suggested in relation to Public Enemies , Mann is interested in the romanticization of the violent outlaw—in building him up, and in simultaneously deconstructing that image. Morally, the film tries to have it both ways at various points. The script goes out of its way to make excuses for Neil, to make it clear that people are killed at the first armored car robbery only because of the itchy trigger finger of Waingro. Mann knows that audiences like to see complex, well-executed plans play out on screen. At the heart of the heist genre is this desire to see tough, professional men executing a brilliant crime Rififi comes to mind again.
So maybe the genre is morally ambiguous in its essence, and Mann only highlights this ambiguity more than most. What do you think? Is the film simply morally ambiguous in the way it portrays the robbers, or is Mann allowing his audience to enjoy the hyperbolic violence while sidestepping its moral implications? Mann leaves no doubt, none, that Neil is only out for himself and that he will stop at nothing to protect his interests.
As Muhammad Ali would say, Neil is baaaaaaad, man. De Niro makes sure of that. Because he is so efficient at everything else, we believe that Neil will hold true to the clean and simple life he has planned with Eady, if only he can get there. We root for that. In a strange way, a successful bank heist will redeem Neil. Not by a long shot. That would suggest to me that, underneath it all, the moral message is appropriate and clear.
EH: You make a good point about the lack of civilian casualties during that shootout. I mean, at one point Vincent and Neil are firing at one another through a crowd of people, with Vincent scrambling to get the bystanders out of the way, and still all the bullets seem to be hitting buildings and cars. Throughout the whole long shootout, Mann mostly just shows glass breaking and pumps up the volume on the gunshots.
It makes it very easy to enjoy the sequence as visceral action, and to mourn the dead robbers, but it discourages a more critical perspective on the violence depicted in the film. Still, as The Last of the Mohicans had already proved, Mann is hardly only capable of crafting epic mood pieces about criminals and the men who chase them.
His next two films, The Insider and Ali , would on the surface seem to be more mainstream, less personal projects for the director. He is slowly coaxed by 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman Al Pacino into telling his story in an interview for the TV show, in the process revealing some key information about what tobacco industry executives know about nicotine addiction.
For me, this is his second best film by far. I have no doubts about that. More compelling. More heart wrenching. More profound. There are no milestone coffee shop scenes or exhilarating action set pieces. Its greatness is collective, and thus a little deceptive. So many of the conversations are about science or legal red tape, and the closest Mann gets to a gunfight is when someone attempts to intimidate Jeffrey Wigand by leaving a bullet in his mailbox. Just look at the star: Russell Crowe, wearing a gut, a pair of hardly-hip glasses and a mostly blank expression.
In another Mann film, Crowe could play that arresting tough guy. Here, he goes inward. In almost any other movie about this subject, Jeffrey would be absolutely and unequivocally lionized. He has praiseworthy ethics, yes, but he is a slave to them. Afterwards, though, it tends to slip from the mind, not making any lasting impact. This is a film that relies on the extreme closeup—shots of profound, nearly uncomfortable intimacy. The first time we see Jeffrey, the camera is trailing right behind his head as he walks out of his office after being fired—we see only his ear and the frame of his glasses sticking out from around the side of his face.
This especially happens with Crowe, who spends much of the film in these uncomfortably close shots. It is his decision that is at the center of the movie, his thought process, and thus Mann is constantly looking directly into his eyes, placing his face right up against the surface of the image. JB: Indeed, both the acting and the camerawork are understated and yet effective. Or should I say lack of effect? All of that said, I agree with you that The Insider tends to slip from the mind. Or perhaps it belongs in another category as one of the few great films of all time to lack anything that could stand out as one of the greatest scenes of all time.
Its casual surrealism is all the more effective and destabilizing in a film that is otherwise so resolutely grounded in reality. The power of that scene makes me think that, while leaving a visceral impression may not be a prerequisite for a great film in general, it might be a good criterion for a great Mann film.
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Either way, his next film, the biopic Ali , is a return to more familiar Mann territory, stylistically speaking, even as it engages with an unfamiliar genre. We hear Cooke and we watch Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, peppering a speed bag, lost in a dreamlike trance, his thoughts disjointed but vibrant. All this makes for a compelling opening sequence, which is typical of Mann.
Truly, Ali begins and thirty minutes go by before it falls into anything resembling a conventional narrative pattern. The first Liston encounter is a piece of artwork in and of itself. In the background we occasionally hear the familiar sports film play-by-play narration, in part to keep Howard Cosell Jon Voight involved, but just as often Mann breaks out of the sports genre mold and lets the action stand for itself. Then we see the effect on Ali, when he finds his eyes filling with tears. A lesser director would have made all of this more explicit.
Mann makes it an anecdote for those in the know and for those paying attention. Whether Mann is a fan of boxing, I have no idea. But certainly the fight scenes in Ali are shot for the serious boxing fan. In other words, like so many boxers, Mann may stay in the ring too long for his own good. The film may settle down into more of a conventional narrative after its opening half-hour, but it never totally shakes off the style of that initial montage. The film is a loose collection of moments stitched together to create an atmosphere rather than to tell a story.
Important narrative details are backed into in destabilizing ways: We learn that Ali has a baby with his second wife Belinda Nona Gaye only when the child cries in the next room, which indicates how much time has passed, how big an ellipsis has just been passed over. Other details remain subtly in the background, and Mann needs only to show a short scene here and there to suggest all the backroom money dealings and betrayals surrounding Ali, like the way the film implies why Herbert Barry Shabaka Henley suspended Ali from the Nation of Islam.
A lot goes unsaid, a lot is skipped over. The sad ending, the long years of decline, those are familiar too, and the film wisely ends before that point, allowing all that to remain unspoken, the subtext beneath the end credits. The film ends with Ali, not at the top of his career, already on his way down really, but nevertheless at a moment of unlikely triumph, a moment when he manages to scrape out a punch-drunk victory against George Foreman Charles Shufford.
But always the man at the center of the film keeps things sparkling. JB: He does. This is inevitable. Smith is given the task of playing one of the most vibrant, charismatic and arresting personalities of the television age. It is impossible to be as Ali as Ali. Though physically up to the task, Smith seems somehow smaller than Ali, but then Ali was larger than life. His use of music is powerful and familiar throughout. In so many ways, this is quintessential Mann. And yet Ali is the Mann picture that I feel is in danger of being forgotten all too quickly. Most of these are in the downright exhilarating first half, but the second half has its moments too.
I get the impression that a lot of the negative reviews this film got upon release specifically cited that lengthy, dialogue-free temps mort where Ali goes jogging through an African village, but for me that was one of many high points. Here, Ali comes face to face with himself, in the form of a wall painting of him punching out tanks and planes, as though fighting against war itself. Is he happy? But when he keeps the film moving along briskly, its themes and ideas pouring out in kinetic bursts, the film is as fiery, as agile and quick-witted, as Ali himself.
But not really. Collateral has a chilling heavy in Vincent and a charming hero in Max, and both of these characters fit the Mann mold in the way they self-identify with their work and seek nothing short of perfection. Its appeal is on the surface. Collateral announces itself as something special within its first thirteen minutes as Mann delivers yet another intoxicating opening. Over the next few minutes we see snippets of his late afternoon rounds and a stop for gas.
And then, just as the sun is setting, Max picks up a lawyer named Annie, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Thornhill in North By Northwest , or countless other Hitchcock heroes who suddenly find themselves in way over their heads. If this was all there was to the film, I might agree with you that it was a fun ride but not necessarily prime Mann.
Michael Mann, Révélations (The Insider) - Persée
In this respect, the much-praised opening is more than just a languid mood-setter. It takes this killer to push the hero out of his comfort zone. JB: Interesting. The showdown with Felix has lost that meta effect that it had the first time around. That quibble aside, the Vincent-Max relationship is dependably effective in another equally important way: We believe that these two dissimilar men form an entirely unjustifiable comfort with one another over the course of a very strange night. Without that convincing bond between Max and Vincent, Collateral would flop.