It’s really all about excellence.
From Will Graham’s extraordinary ability to relate to Manhunter’s serial-killing monsters to the lethal professionalism of Heat’s cops and robbers, Michael Mann’s strongest films are about being the best at what you do, often to the – potentially calamitous – neglect of all else.
“I change cars like other guys change their fucking shoes. I’m a thief!” barks James Caan as Frank, the titular career crook who’s looking for a lucrative out in Mann’s feature debut. Although Caan would be on hiatus for the rest of the decade, Frank represents one of his greatest performances, a character as dazzling as the diamonds he steals.
One astounding sequence set, like Heat’s pivotal tête-à-tête, in a diner, sees him all but kidnap waitress Tuesday Weld, then bully her into bewildered fascination with stories of pipe beatings and prison rapes.
Sure enough, Weld is soon part of Frank’s paper-thin escape plan, but as in most of Mann’s films there’s no walking away when what you do is indistinguishable from what you are.
In order to underline Frank’s brilliance, we spend a good 15 minutes watching sparks stylishly fly as he blowtorches safes. But the leisurely pace isn’t the only Mann mainstay on show here.
The meticulous real-time heists, synth-drenched Tangerine Dream score and rampant technophilia betray his unique signature, cool and crisply assured. Perhaps it’s only apt that a director whose work is so efficient and precision-tooled should have arrived on the scene fully formed.
You see, with Mann, it’s always been about excellence…
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