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May 29, 2009


When I tuned on Michael Mann’s 2006 re-imagining of his own hit TV show, Miami Vice on the USA Network it was already well past midnight, but damned if I didn’t watch nearly all of it before I went to bed.  The same would have been true if Heat had been on or Manhunter, or The Last of the Mohicans, or The Insider or maybe even Thief.

Nobody makes a movie you can watch from the middle to the end on cable quite like Michael Mann.

And well he should. He did get his start writing and directing TV after all. Still, what director working today has a larger stable of cable-friendly films watchable from any point at all to their synth-scored conclusion? It’s not that Mann’s films are so great as they are so absurdly watchable . The fact that they mostly lack huge amounts of sex, violence, and language that would make their edited-for-cable incarnations vastly different from their theatrical versions certainly doesn’t hurt either, but really, what, when you get right down to it, is the repeatedly tantalizing appeal?

Perhaps it is because Mann’s heroes are writ so large and his villains are so heroic in their villainy. These are big, long movies that so completely fill the whole wide screen they seem only slightly diminished in the smaller format of TV. Mann’s characters live a series of bright white days and blue black nights that belie the absolute clarity of their motivation. His leading men need only two things, crime, either fighting it or committing it, and the love of a good woman. Again and again, these twin passions permeate Mann’s films. The simplicity of their motivation makes these characters equally understandable if you start watching halfway through or half asleep. Sure, people aren’t like this in real life, the drama smaller and more defuse, but aren’t those big clear emotions why we watch movies in the first place?

So, as anticipate the July 1st release of Mann’s latest film, Public Enemies, a sympathetic portrait of 1930’s gangster John Dillinger, I do with the knowledge that sometime not too very long after I see it in the theater, I will happen upon it in the late Los Angeles night. I only hope, when I do, I have nowhere to be too early in the morning.