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Posts Tagged ‘Police Story’

Last night I watched Michael Mann’s Heat for the first time. I’m not sure what took me 15 years to see the film starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. I should have seen this when it first came out if for no other reason that I believe it’s the first time Pacino and DeNiro faced each other in a film. It’s not your typical good guy/bad guy story. Mann exposes for the grey areas of the characters and you think that it wouldn’t take much for the good guy to be the bad guy and the bad guy to be the good guy. Similar criminal minds who have taken different paths that pit them against each other.

My favorite line in the film was said by Val Kilmer when De Niro asks him why his woman is leaving him and Kilmer says (in his ocean front house), “Not enough steaks in the freezer.”  That’s tight writing and we know he’s not talking about literal “steaks in the freezer.”

Heat screenwriter/ director Michael Mann was born and raised in Chicago and got turned on to filmmaking while an English major at the University of Wisconsin. He made documentaries in London before writing for TV shows like Starsky & Hutch and Police Story and creating Miami Vice. From there he’s gone on to write and or direct some terrific feature films including The Last of the Mohicans, Collateral, and The Insider. Along the way he’s picked up four Oscar nominations.

To get a glimpse of how Mann works here is a part of an interview that Mann did with Michael Sragow talking about writing and directing The Insider starring Pacino and Russell Crowe:

I tried to direct the subtext. That’s where I found the meaning of the scenes. You could write the story of certain scenes in a code that would be completely coherent but have nothing to do with the lines you hear.

For example, in the hotel room scene, Scene 35, when Lowell and Jeffrey first meet: All Lowell knows for sure is that Jeffrey has said “no” to helping him analyze a story about tobacco for “60 Minutes.” He doesn’t know yet that there’s a “yes” hiding behind this “no.” There’s a whole story going on that’s not what anybody’s talking about.

If you wrote an alternate speech for Jeffrey, it would go: “I’m here to resurrect some of my dignity, because I’ve been fired, and that’s why I dressed up this way and that’s why I have these patrician, corporate-officer attitudes.” And you could do the same for Lowell, and have him sitting there and saying, “This man wants to tell me something that is not about why he’s meeting me.”

Al Pacino just took over Lowell’s great reporter’s intuition to sit there and laser-scan Jeffrey with his eyes. You know, he looks at him, looks at him, and doesn’t move, until, after all the fidgeting and shuffling with the papers, Russell, as Jeffrey, gets to say his great line — “I was a corporate vice president” — with the attitude “Once upon a time, I was a very important person.” And that [Mann snaps his fingers] is when Lowell has it.

Suddenly, here’s the significance of this meeting: “He’s the former head of research and development at Browne & Williamson Tobacco Company, and he wants to talk to me.” Without hitting anything on the head with exposition, without any of that awful dialogue, like “Boy, have I got a lead which may give us the newsbreak of the decade,” you know that Lowell knows he’s on the scent of a helluva story.

Scott W. Smith

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