We’re in something of a drought when it comes to quality crime cinema, so it seems even longer than 2009 since Michael Mann’s last proper effort, “Public Enemies” (yes, we’re going to act as though “Blackhat” never happened). So something like “Michael Mann: People, Places, Crimes” from Michael Couvaras is a handy reminder for what we’re missing from the guy.
The video essay goes heavy on clips from “Public Enemies” right off the bat as it delves into the theme of Mann’s characters and their essential qualities—which mostly involve the obsessive pursuits of their goals. “[Mann] likes crime, he loves it,” Couvaras notes, before delving into the relationship of Mann’s characters to the urban spaces they are so frequently isolated and adrift in. Short extracts of dialogue from “Heat” and “Public Enemies” are used to highlight the characters’ driven natures and how they live inside “the confines of the stories they tell themselves.”
The essay contrasts the sprawling cityscapes of what it calls Mann’s “L.A. trilogy”—“Heat,” “Collateral,” and for some reason, Mann’s 1981 debut, the indeed urban but quite definitely Chicago-set “Thief”—with the spacious ocean shots that signify peace and contentment in “The Insider” and “Manhunter.” It ties up with a brief look at the importance of architecture in Mann’s oeuvre and how it serves to pinpoint the characters’ solitary pursuits.
Although clips flash by of Mann’s less canonical work like “Ali,” “The Last of the Mohicans,” and “Miami Vice,” these are left mostly undiscussed. They do, however, serve as reminders of the breadth of Mann’s gleaming cinematic resume in a time when American auteurs who can command big budgets and big stars without (usually) surrendering their vision are few and far between.