Michael MannThe career of can be divided into two very distinct halves. His early era (defined by movies like Heat and man hunter) presented a polished, almost novelistic approach to storytelling, with sweeping stories about complex characters who felt like they had been ripped from the page of a classic tome, all told with a level of technical finesse that turned even the most mundane scene into a moment of awe.
His second era is very different, changing his clean film-shooting aesthetic to one that embraces the brave new world of digital photography, giving his films a radically different look that feels closer to home movie than of a big-budget feature film. The settings of miami vice and Black hat exist in an abstract plain of existence where colors and images convey stories before dialogue – digital lyricism through the era of silence. Added to this are characters that seem closer to machines than people, vectors for conveying emotions and moods that complement the expressionist worlds in which they exist. It’s fascinating to see Mann’s approach to filmmaking shift to such a different (yet equally gratifying) style, while still managing to retain the distinctive elements that made him such an admired director. Watching his filmography in order allows one to see this change in real time, and while glimmers of his second era can be glimpsed in Aliit was his 2004 neo-noir thriller Collateral which marked the crossroads between the old and the new.
Set in a single night in Los Angeles, the film follows taxi driver Max (Jamie Foxx) as he becomes an unwitting participant in a series of assassinations perpetrated by Vincent (Tom Cruise), a hitman who is also his current passenger. While the film occasionally cuts to focus on the investigations of LAPD Detective Ray (Marc Ruffalo) or the activities of Federal Prosecutor Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), Mann keeps the focus firmly on Vincent and Max, following their bloodshed odyssey through the eerie streets of LA. and crew who elevate it far beyond its usual trappings, earning the rare distinction of pleasing both critics and mainstream audiences.
Originally conceived as a low budget feature for HBO before finding its way to DreamWorks (where Russell Crowe and Adam Sandler have been set for the lead roles), Collateral marked the first time Mann adopted digital cinematography for an entire film (with a few exceptions), resulting in a look that was radically different from what audiences were used to. Despite this, Mann has always kept one foot in the style of his previous films, with a clear story told in an understated way. It’s not miami vicestarting halfway through its narrative and forcing viewers to catch up for half an hour while weaving their way through endless names and technobabbles, opting instead for a much slower opening that delicately showcases all of its pieces before chaos erupts.
Max is Jamie Foxx’s audience
Much of that time is spent developing Max, perhaps the most likable character to ever star in a Michael Mann film. By the time the sun rises over the litany of bullet-riddled bodies Vincent left in his wake, audiences will know enough about Max to write his biography. He’s the perfect audience substitute, his ignorance of anything illegal justifying the brief moments of exposition that clarify the plot. Mann’s films often feature protagonists who already have a long history with the underworld, but films like Heat and man hunter relieved the viewer without becoming too wordy. His later films eschewed this approach, forcing the viewer to pick up the pieces themselves that cement their idea of the literal story taking second place to a wider selection of themes and emotions. In movies like miami vice it works beautifully, immersing the viewer in a drug-fueled version of Florida that seems every bit as detached as its characters (while also functioning as a sleek subversion of what fans of the TV series would expect), but it’s also a decision that’s proven to be polarizing. Collateral doesn’t do it, however, by sticking to a simpler route that never detracts from its elegantly realized blockbuster goal.
One of the most striking aspects of Collateral is his visual style. The portable video look gives it an appearance unlike anything else, rivaled only by Mann’s later films which would take the style even further. While it doesn’t completely abandon traditional shooting techniques – every interior scene was shot on 35mm, as were the daytime exterior scenes – much of the film uses this very intimate, very gritty look that transforms Los Angeles into a fully realized character in her own right. right. Rather than trying to mask his use of digital through post-production manipulation, Mann loudly announces his newfound fascination, taking advantage of all its benefits. Its ability to shoot in low light combines with its homemade look to give Collateral an improvisational feel that helps it avoid the gloss of a typical Hollywood production. At times, it feels like part of a converted documentary that follows Vincent and Max the whole time, and when the film cuts through the chaos to focus on a small group of coyotes traversing the empty streets of LA (a surprisingly serene and beautiful moment), the immediacy of the camera work makes you feel like you’re at their side.
Mann’s second era is clearly rooted in the 21st century
Likewise, it also gives the film a decidedly modern feel as if the passage from one century to another has triggered a change in Mann’s perception of the world. With advances in technology fundamentally changing the nature of storytelling, it seems Mann wanted to embrace rather than reject this change, associating the 21st century nature of Collateral story with the form in which it is presented. Nine years ago by Robert DeNiro Neil McCauley was examining physical blueprints under the dim glow of a car’s overhead light, and now everything Tom Cruise needs is hidden away on a tablet PC that’s so important he nearly kills Max after destroying it. Not even 10 years have passed since heat, but the world is already a very different place, and Mann is here to document it.
Vincent is a strange character, existing simultaneously on both sides of Mann’s career, which makes him even more enigmatic than he already is. His role as a solitary criminal who follows a strict code of ethics has obvious feedback on the protagonists of Thief and Heat, but the cold, inhuman way in which he views human life brings him closer to the muted characterization seen in Mann’s later films. During one scene, Vincent visits Max’s mother in the hospital, and while he seems quite pleasant during this encounter, the illusion is shattered soon after when he announces (without slightest emotion) that he’ll come back to kill her if Max doesn’t. don’t do what he’s told.
A different type of protagonist
Characters like miami vice Sonny (Colin Farrel) Where Blackhat’s Nicholas (Chris Hemsworth) are very unusual protagonists for a big-budget action film, lacking the charisma or relativity that such films typically opt for. Sometimes it can feel like they are waging a futile war against the onslaught of a world that has blasted away all human emotions until we are just a pile of 1s and 0s on a computer screen, and it shows how passionately they hold onto the few tangible things in their lives. As the protagonists of an experimental version of a Hollywood action movie, they’re perfect, but for a general audience looking for simple entertainment, they might seem a little off-putting. Vincent avoids this problem for two main reasons: first, he is the villain, not the hero; and second, the coldness of his personality is directly tied to his role as a hitman, heightening the bitterness between him and Max/the viewer.
When Neil dies at the end of Heat, many viewers may feel a touch of sadness despite seeing him commit various murders and robberies throughout the film. For all his obvious flaws, there was a decent man buried beneath his costume, and it was never suggested that he did what he did for depraved, sadistic pleasure. But as for Vincent, who knows? We learn very little about him, and what we get could easily be a lie. His death is unlikely to elicit much sympathy, and deliberately so. Interestingly, there is a direct parallel between Neil’s introduction and Vincent’s conclusion. The first opens his film by entering Los Angeles via a train, and the second releases theirs on a train leaving Los Angeles. A connective tissue moment between two of Mann’s greatest works, but it can also be interpreted as a symbolic passing of the torch from one era to another – old archaic ways fading to the horizon as the glow of the he new dawn announces the arrival of the new.
It’s not uncommon for Mann’s older fans to be left cold by his most recent work, while many of his newer admirers find it hard to return to his early films due to their more conventional approach. It is fascinating, then, to see Collateral attracting supporters from both sides of the aisle. It has the complex character work of the old and the digital experimentalism of the new, blending it into an engaging story that appeals to all types of moviegoers. For some it was the last truly great film Mann ever made, and for others it marked the start of his new renaissance. Either way, it’s arguably its most successful blend of arthouse sensibilities and good old-fashioned fun, and only the best directors can pull it off.