Friday, November 4, 2011
I've mentioned before the role the sky plays in Michael Mann movies. It turns out that his interest in it goes all the way back to his astoundingly assured and steadily brilliant debut, Thief. After an opening heist that has the intensity found in all Mann's work, he gives us a scene of tranquility. It's early morning and James Caan's character sits down on a bench next to a presumably homeless man. Mann shoots the scene from behind the bench, and we only see their sillouettes facing the sky. It looks magnificent and then the man says: "Look at that. That's the sky chief. Ain't that sky chief something?" In Mann's world, which is very real, the sky is peace, this "other place" his characters are trying to reach. We see this also with the ocean, which is found in this and much of Mann's other work. These images suggest a sense of longing. Something that may never be obtained. Michael Mann has made films in three different decades: Thief is in his first, the eighties, in which he also made The Keep and Manhunter. These three films have are sort setting the template for his most complete decade, the nineties, when he made two great films, The Last of the Mohicans, and Heat, and one nearly great one, The Insider. Then in the 2000s his interests shifted in terms of style. Yet he was till motivated by history, man, and machoism. The latter can be found in Thief, which may be the most perfect debut of any director. The film shows tremendous control and intelligence, yet it's visceral and really exciting, too. Mann's films have always been very commercial products because he loves what the general audience loves. Yet you'll find cinephiles and even scholars look at Mann's work very enthusiastically because of how layered it is. And the cool thing about Mann is that he didn't need to develop as a storyteller. He became a better stylist, but as seen in Thief, the other elements are all there.