“Heat” and “Collateral”: Crime genius Michael Mann turns 80

“Heat” and “Collateral”
Crime genius Michael Mann turns 80

Director Michael Mann celebrates his 80th birthday on February 5th, 2023. photo

© Daniel Dal Zennaro/ANSA/dpa

He was the first to bring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in front of the film camera for scenes together. Director Michael Mann wrote film history with the crime thriller “Heat”.

Michael Mann shoots with the biggest stars, the most exciting thrillers bear his signature. In “Heat” (1995) he pitted Robert De Niro as a gangster against Al Pacino as a cop in a game of cat and mouse. In “Collateral” (2004) he sent Tom Cruise through Los Angeles at night as an ice-cold contract killer. With ‘Miami Vice’ (2006) he created a gritty cinema version of the previous hit TV series, starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx as cops on a gang hunt.

His current project, a biopic about the legendary car manufacturer and racing driver Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988), is a bit out of line. The first photos from the shooting set in Italy were posted online last October. With gray hair combed back, dark glasses and a suit, the main actor Adam Driver (39, “House of Gucci”) is hardly recognizable. Penelope Cruz plays Laura, Ferrari’s wife, and Shailene Woodley, his lover Lina Lardi.

Michael Mann takes a lot of time for film projects

As early as the 1990s, Mann had spoken of wanting to film the eventful life of the car mogul. An important part of the film is the year 1957, when a Ferrari racing car had a fatal accident during the notorious “Mille Miglia” car rally across Italy.

The film is scheduled to hit the cinemas this year, when the director will be 80 years old. On February 5, Mann celebrates his milestone birthday. He is in the middle of the film editing, unfortunately he has no time for interviews, his spokesman team told the German Press Agency on request.

With meticulous research and large sets, Mann usually takes his time with his films. The celebrated director has only directed a good dozen feature films, and there are often years of pauses between his works.

He’s a late bloomer in Hollywood. It was only at the age of 38 that he brought his first feature film to the cinema. “The Loner” (1981), with James Caan as a bank robber, already bore the signature of his later crime successes – with great attention to detail and coolly staged violence.

His masterpiece is the thriller “Heat”

In “Manhunter – Blood Moon” (1986) he brought the serial killer Hannibal Lecter to the screen, who later became a cult figure through Jonathan Demme’s “The Silence of the Lambs”. He had his first big box office success in 1992 with a film that was not set in a gangster environment – in the historical film “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) he sent Daniel Day-Lewis through the wilderness. With Russell Crowe and Al Pacino he directed Insider (1999), a thriller about the machinations of the tobacco industry, with Will Smith as legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in the biopic Ali (2001).

But his masterpiece is the crime thriller “Heat” (1995), Hollywood’s first film ever to pit screen greats Robert De Niro and Al Pacino against each other. Both appeared in the mafia epic “The Godfather 2” (1974), but not in scenes together.

In the almost three-hour action thriller “Heat” they are bitter opponents, the policeman Vincent Hanna (Pacino) and the professional gangster Neil McCauley (De Niro). In Los Angeles, Mann filmed one of the most bullet-ridden shootouts in film history and an unforgettable showdown in cold, aesthetic images.

Mann wrote the screenplay for twelve years. He consulted with police officers and gangsters. “I lived in Los Angeles for 19 years,” the director, who grew up in Chicago, told the German Press Agency at the time. Nevertheless, it took a lot of time to scout out the locations. “Heat” is not a pure action thriller. Mann’s films are always character studies. The hunting cop and the brutal gangster are complex characters with failed relationships.

It’s always about stories

The director and author has been married to an artist since the mid-1970s, and the couple has four daughters. In an interview with the newspaper “Wall Street Journal” last September, Mann looked back on his youth. He helped out at his father’s grocery store in Chicago. As a teenager, he wasn’t interested in films, but he was interested in the many stories his father told.

Later he studied literature and took a course in film history. At that time he saw the silent film “Faust” by the German director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931). It became clear to him in a flash that he wanted to make films himself, Mann told the newspaper.

“Heat” fans can now also hope for a sequel to the gangster thriller. Last fall, the director released his first novel, Heat 2. 27 years after the film, he looks at the history of his characters and how survivors of McCauley’s gangster gang fare later. The New York Times told Mann that he had big plans for the story: “Not a small movie. Not a streaming series. A big movie.”

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