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Entering the entertainment industry as a television writer of 1970s cop shows, Michael Mann went on to become one of Hollywood's leading directors, enjoying great critical success on both small and large screens alike. After several years in television, Mann made his directorial debut with the moody heist-drama "Thief" (1981), prior to shaping the look and tone of the pastel-colored phenomenon that was "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89) as its executive producer. He came into his own directing the stylized thriller "Manhunter" (1986) - giving audiences their first glimpse of Hannibal Lector on film - then demonstrated his versatility by helming one of the few faithful adaptations of the romantic frontier adventure "Last of the Mohicans" (1992). But it was the tense and visceral crime thriller "Heat" (1995) - which boasted the first-ever onscreen pairing of cinematic giants Al Pacino and Robert De Niro - that elevated Mann into the upper echelon of Hollywood directors. After helming the Oscar-nominated cigarette industry drama "The Insider" (1999), he went on to varying degrees of success with such films as "Ali" (2001), "Collateral" (2004), "Miami Vice" (2006) and "Public Enemies" (2009). Over the years,...
Entering the entertainment industry as a television writer of 1970s cop shows, Michael Mann went on to become one of Hollywood's leading directors, enjoying great critical success on both small and large screens alike. After several years in television, Mann made his directorial debut with the moody heist-drama "Thief" (1981), prior to shaping the look and tone of the pastel-colored phenomenon that was "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89) as its executive producer. He came into his own directing the stylized thriller "Manhunter" (1986) - giving audiences their first glimpse of Hannibal Lector on film - then demonstrated his versatility by helming one of the few faithful adaptations of the romantic frontier adventure "Last of the Mohicans" (1992). But it was the tense and visceral crime thriller "Heat" (1995) - which boasted the first-ever onscreen pairing of cinematic giants Al Pacino and Robert De Niro - that elevated Mann into the upper echelon of Hollywood directors. After helming the Oscar-nominated cigarette industry drama "The Insider" (1999), he went on to varying degrees of success with such films as "Ali" (2001), "Collateral" (2004), "Miami Vice" (2006) and "Public Enemies" (2009). Over the years, Mann rightfully garnered a reputation as a meticulous craftsman, whose slick imagery effectively captured driven, complicated characters at odds - often violently - with the world around them.
Born on Feb. 5, 1943 in Chicago, IL, Mann grew up in the tough neighborhood of Humbolt Park, where he fell into the vibrant blues music scene as a teenager. He attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he studied English literature, and discovered filmmaking when the school began offering courses on cinema history and theory. Inspired by the work of Stanley Kubrick, he journeyed across the pond to attend the London Film School, where he made artsy student films that stayed buried in the vault until he became a noted filmmaker. After a short stint as a documentary and commercial director, he made a noted experimental short film, "Jaunpuri" (1971), which won the Jury Prize at that year's Cannes Film Festival. Returning to the United States, he moved to Los Angeles and eventually began working as a writer on cop shows like "Bronk (CBS, 1975-76), "Starsky and Hutch" (ABC, 1975-79) and "Vega$" (ABC, 1978-1981).
Mann returned to the director's chair with the made-for-television movie, "The Jericho Mile" (ABC, 1979), which earned him an Emmy Award for writing and was released theatrically abroad. Inspirational yet gritty, the thoughtful drama starred Peter Strauss as a convicted killer with a life sentence who breaks up the boredom of prison life by running laps in the courtyard. His speed is noticed by prison guards who try to help him become a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Mann finally made his feature debut as a director with "Thief" (1981), starring James Caan as a professional safecracker who decides to take on one last job before entering society as a law-abiding citizen. But when his plans fall apart as he becomes indebted to a crime boss who lent him money, the thief struggles to break free in order to lead a normal life. Noted for Caan's strong performance after appearing in a series of bad films, "Thief" also displayed some of the stylistic elements later prevalent in Mann's work, including slick camera movement, superb performances, and a moody score that amplified the character's inner lives.
After the commercial and critical failure of "The Keep" (1983) a wildly uneven exercise that attempted to graft German Expressionist techniques on a bizarre story that straddled the horror and war genres, Mann returned to television, serving as executive producer on the cultural phenomenon "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-1990). Created by Anthony Yerkovich, the hour-long series focused on two Miami-Dade detectives, Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas), who work undercover to take down the drug traffickers and arms dealers that have infested South Florida. Mann took over the show during the first season, filling the bill by crafting a terminally hip show featuring slick action sequences often set to popular songs of the day, Jan Hammer's driving musical scores - which included the famed opening title theme - and detectives dressed in rather bright designer clothes while routinely donning sunglasses and driving expensive cars. Once deemed cutting edge, "Miami Vice" failed to age well and failed in syndication, where it looked more hopelessly dated than "Dragnet" (NBC, 1951-59). Still, the series lived on as a cultural milestone, as well as a groundbreaking take on a genre which helped pave the way for edgier cop shows and detective features.
Though "Miami Vice" was a big ratings winner, some critics preferred his less successful effort, "Crime Story" (NBC, 1986-88), a would-be epic initially set in 1960s Chicago, but which concluded its run in the glitzy environment of Las Vegas. The series focused on a major crimes unit lieutenant (Dennis Farina) waging war against a ruthless mob boss (Anthony Denison) hell-bent on destroying him, while a mobster's son-turned-prosecuting attorney (Stephen Lang) aides in the fight against crime. After airing as a two-hour pilot, the show benefited from following "Miami Vice," but fell off the ratings map when it moved to a more challenging timeslot. Meanwhile, as "Miami Vice" began to peter out, Mann served as executive producer, writer and director on "L.A. Takedown" (NBC, 1989), a television movie pilot about a dogged Los Angeles detective (Scott Plank) struggling to catch up to a crew of professional criminals who always stay one step ahead. Though the movie failed to become a series, it did serve as the foundation for Mann's later film, "Heat" (1995). Still in television mode, Mann was executive producer on the Emmy-winning docudrama, "Drug Wars: The Camarena Story" (NBC, 1990) and its sequel, "Drug Wars: The Cocaine Cartel" (NBC, 1992).
In a return to the big screen as director, Mann took a more hands-on approach with his features, opting to also produce "Manhunter" (1986), a grim and disturbing psychological thriller that marked the screen debut of the celebrated cannibalistic psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (originally played by Brian Cox). The stylish thriller focused on a FBI agent (William Petersen) with a useful, but troubling knack for getting inside the heads of the serial killers he hunts. Though violent, the carnage was more implied than shown, while the film remained neglected by the masses, in large part to Cox's take on Lecter which was less spectacular than Anthony Hopkins' in "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). He followed with a thoughtfully revisionist adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's novel "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), which he co-wrote with Christopher Crowe. Uncharacteristic of his previous and subsequent work, the lyrical film oscillated between the sweep of historical fiction and the smaller canvass of a love story between an adopted Mohican man, Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) and a British woman, Cora Monro (Madeline Stowe). The epic romantic adventure featured galvanizing battle scenes, a typically rousing score and a charismatic central performance by Day-Lewis, who proved adept at being a Hollywood action star. And for the first time, one of his films found a huge female following, due in no small part to Day-Lewis' primal performance, as well as the uttering of his classic line to Cora: "You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you!"
Mann staked out more familiar territory with "Heat" (1995), an absorbing crime drama promoted for its landmark pairing of two American acting titans, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, who were both in "The Godfather, Part II" (1974), but never shared screen time. De Niro played a driven, self-controlled professional thief who can walk away from anything in 30 seconds when he feels the heat, while Pacino was an equally dedicated detective with a screwed-up personal life who tries to take down De Niro's crew. Much more than a cat-and-mouse thriller, "Heat" boasted a wealth of novelistic detail in its screenplay, virtuosic action set pieces - including a spectacular shootout on the streets of Los Angeles - and high-caliber acting from a cast including Amy Brenneman, Jon Voight, Ashley Judd and Val Kilmer. Impactful and atmospheric without being indulgent, "Heat" was a feast of Mann's signature elements: slick camera moves, stunning imagery loaded with meaning, and sharp dialogue that amplified the theme of professional men who stop at nothing in spite of some arbitrary need of a so-called normal life.
Mann mined recent history and personal connections for his next project, "The Insider" (1999), picking the brain of fellow Wisconsin grad Lowell Bergman (Pacino), an investigative journalist in the middle of a firestorm over the refusal by CBS to air a "60 Minutes" segment featuring Brown & Williamson research scientist-turned-whistleblower, Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe). Though "The Insider" sometimes played fast and loose with facts, the broad strokes showed the emotional truth of how one man's damning information presented through a free press exposed big tobacco's tissue of lies, earning Mann the best reviews of his career. He also picked up three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director. Mann returned to the big screen two years later with "Ali" (2001), the biopic of boxer Muhammad Ali (Will Smith), tracing the decade between the champion's defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964 and his 1974 comeback fight in Zaire against George Foreman, known as the Rumble in the Jungle. Though Mann made a good choice casting in Smith, the film itself was flawed and captured only a portion of Ali's cultural importance at the height of his fame. Still, "Ali" enjoyed a profitable opening and its share of positive critical reception, including an Oscar nomination for Smith.
Mann followed up "Ali " with the compelling crime thriller, "Collateral" (2004), which focused on a Los Angeles cabbie (Jaime Foxx) who has the unfortunate luck of picking up a hit man (Tom Cruise) in town to perform a job. The hit man hires the cabbie for the night, leading him on a wild spree across the City of Angels as he tries to whack five witnesses set to testify in a trial against a local drug trafficker (Javier Bardem). Mann made several fortuitous decisions prior to filming, namely casting Foxx, who also performed brilliantly that year in "Ray" (2004), and Cruise, who received excellent notices for playing one of the rare villains in a long career of playing hero. On the technical side, Mann decided to shoot the entire with a digital camera, which added to the gritty nature of the story, while also creating a degree of intimacy as the hit man and cabbie spend a great deal of their conflicting relationship inside a taxi. Again, Mann earned considerable praise for another excellent addition to his body of work.
After Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for his work as producer on "The Aviator" (2004), Mann got his chance to helm "Miami Vice" (2006) as a feature. He reunited with Jaime Foxx, who played the smart and urbane Ricardo Tubbs, and cast Irish bad boy Colin Farrell as the brash and charismatic Sonny Crockett. The undercover detectives pursue an arms and drug trafficker, as identity and reality become blurred between cop, criminal and those they love. The idea of rehashing his old television series was abhorrent to Mann at first, but when Foxx cornered him at a party for Muhammad Ali and told him he needed to make the movie, Mann began exploring the possibility. After struggling with the studio over the rights, Mann began shooting, but immediately encountered numerous problems, including bad weather, injured stars, and a gun-waving madman trying to make his way onto the set. The film was completed after a grueling 105-day shoot that saw numerous crew defections, and spawned wild stories back in Hollywood about crashing planes and the director shooting people. Upon its summer release, "Miami Vice" received lukewarm reviews that at least gave props for Mann's ability to churn out a compelling and gritty police procedural without mimicking or mocking the source material. The film, however, was a commercial disappointment.
Retreating a step into producer mode, Mann helped shepherd "The Kingdom" (2007) a dark and gritty political thriller directed by Peter Berg about an FBI special agent (Foxx) investigating a terrorist attack on American forces inside Saudi Arabia. He reunited with Will Smith for the comic book comedy, "Hancock" (2008), in which the actor played a hard-drinking superhero grown disillusioned with a public that has fallen out of love with him. Back in the director's chair, Mann helmed the much-anticipated "Public Enemies" (2009), a stark and stylish period crime thriller that looked at the career of bank robber John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), as well as his crime spree during the 1930s while trying to outrun FBI agent, Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale), who was appointed by director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup).
Mann put on his producer's hat once again for the little-seen crime drama "Texas Killing Fields" (2011), helmed by his daughter, Ami Canaan Mann, in her debut as a feature film director. Also that year, he co-produced and directed the pilot episode for "Luck" (HBO, 2011-12), an ensemble drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte. Although the show, revolving around the shady denizens of an L.A.-area horse racing track, was off to a strong start in both ratings and reviews, things quickly soured for the David Milch-created program. After two thoroughbred horses were put down due to accidents during filming, the show's producers found themselves in hot water with several animal rights groups. Despite increased safety measures on set, a third horse needed to be euthanized, which caused HBO, Milch and Mann to collectively and shockingly cancel the series while shooting the second episode of season two.
By Shawn Dwyer
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CAST: (feature film)
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"[Mann] has a certain anger. Not like a nasty thing but like this boiling pot in your stomach. He takes a hard line on everything and knows what he wants. He's not one of these guys who makes up his mind in the cutting room." --James Caan, star of "Thief", quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 24, 1995
"As interesting as I found L.A. before I shot the film ["Heat"], I find it even more exciting now. Because of the way it's laid out, lots of people move through self-imposed cultural ghettos that track through different parts of the city's topography. When you're shooting in Wilmington in South Central, L.A.'s a very different place than when you're shooting in the Alps; it's like the East L.A. version of Beirut. Lots of preconceptions about L.A. turn out to be false. The reality--the Mexican-black-Cambodian neighborhoods, the culture of South Central--is much more interesting. It's a culturally complex, commercial-industrial conurbation, and that's what turned me on." --Michael Mann to Graham Fuller in INTERVIEW, December 1995
"Could I have worked under a system where there were Draconian controls on my creativity, meaning budget, time, script choices, etc.? Definitely not. I would have fared poorly under the old studio system that guys like Howard Hawks did so well in. I cannot just make a film and walk away from it. I need that creative intimacy, and quite frankly, the control to execute my vision, on all my projects." --Mann quoted in DGA MAGAZINE, November 1999
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