So everyone’s like, the new Michael Mann movie sucks, and I’m like, you philistines probably just can’t appreciate it, so I cue it up, and oh my it is far worse than I could have imagined. There are some sequences where you get some of the classic Mann colors and set pieces, but in sum, watching Mann try to make a cyberthriller is like I imagine it might be to watch to the Stones cover Kraftwerk. It just doesn’t work. I’m too disappointed and disgusted to map out all the enormous structural failures but I have to single out the moment when the guy hangs up on the other guy and we hear an abrupt dial tone. They are both on cell phones, Michael. Better yet, the moment when the NSA cybersecurity expert gets a computer virus by clicking on a PDF in an email. My grandma knows better. What a disaster.
In my yoot it seemed obvious that cinema auteurs fell into two categories: then (chiefly for me Renoir, Keaton, Murnau, Lang, Wilder, (Anthony) Mann, Fellini, Hitchcock, Godard, Antonioni, etc.) and now (Haynes, Lee, Almodovar, Lynch, Scorsese, Coen, Kar-wai, Haneke, etc.). It’s weird to get old and realize that one of the finest films of my “present” is twenty years old this year.
Speaking of art and time, let me also take a moment to mention the importance of patience. Mann wrote his first treatment of Heat in 1979. Good work takes time to develop, but good work lasts. I saw this first in a second-run movie theater in Houston in 1995 and I saw it again on HBO last night, and it’s lost none of its potency.
Heat is one of the best ten policiers of the second half the twentieth century, which puts it in the company of The Godfather, Chinatown, Touch of Evil, Sunset Boulevard, North by Northwest, and Blade Runner. It is so perfectly paced and edited that despite its length (170 minutes), its grip on the viewer’s attention is never loosened. We are moved inexorably from mood to mood, theme to theme, character to character, as the film’s web of associations, correlations, contradictions, tensions and releases (good guy/bad guy; intimacy/loneliness; coherence/chaos; instinct/cognition; commitment/freedom; etc.) draws ever tighter around us. It is deeply Classical in its symmetries, its pathos, its obsession with timê. Its final peripety comes in the form of a cell phone call from Jon Voigt. I’d love to watch it with Alexander Pope, sharing a box of Milk Duds.