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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Michael Mann's dark world
By Sarah Brown
BBC News Online

Director Michael Mann [left] with Jada Pinkett-Smith and Tom Cruise
Mann [left, with Cruise] is obsessed with career criminals in his films

As Tom Cruise jet-setted across the globe this week to promote the Michael Mann film, Collateral, many pundits have speculated over the star's recent career shift.

Here was a role that put the normally heroic Cruise on the wrong side of the law, as a ruthless hitman who corrals a cab driver into chauffeuring him around LA as he executes his deadly mission.

For director Mann, however, it's the latest in a series of films exploring the morally ambivalent, noirish world of the career criminal.

A taut, visceral thriller set over ten hours in Los Angeles, Collateral displays all the classic Mann themes - the exploration of the male psyche, the blurred lines between good and evil and the disaffection that comes from living in the big city.

And into this world stepped the world's biggest superstar.


Mann's background certainly does not hint at any dark psychological traumas.

Al Pacino [left] with Russell Crowe in The Insider
Mann's The Insider garnered Crowe [right] his first Oscar nomination
A graduate of London's International Film School, Chicago-born Mann, 61, worked for several years in Europe in television and film before moving to LA and establishing himself as a writer for top US cop dramas such as Starsky and Hutch.

His first feature film, Thief, starring James Caan, was the study of a safecracker who becomes immersed in the murky world of the Mafia.

But it was as the executive creator of Miami Vice - the slick, Miami-based 1980s TV series whose influence can still be seen in the murky neon underworld of crime dramas such as Crime Scene Investigation - that he made his name.

The neon lighting, the dynamic between police and criminals, the schism between the glamour of a city such as Miami and its seedy underbelly, even the 80s fashion - all combined to both make the series a huge hit and establish Mann in Hollywood.

Movie buffs have come to adore Mann for subsequent work such as Last of the Mohicans, crime opus Heat - with its much vaunted pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino - The Insider, Ali and his superior version of the Hannibal Lecter saga, Manhunter.

Trademark visuals

Collateral marks a shift for Cruise.

Mann's film highlights
Thief (1981)
Manhunter (1986)
The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Heat (1995)
The Insider (1999)
Ali (2001)

But for Mann the shoot hailed a return to the city of LA so starkly captured in Heat, the film widely considered Mann's masterpiece.

A perfectionist with an almost obsessive attention to detail, Mann is often, unfairly, labelled as a visual director.

It's an observation which Collateral does little to dispel, where the mean streets of LA are as lovingly captured as the leading protagonists' faces.

But Mann has also, arguably, given several actors the roles of their lives, from Russell Crowe in The Insider to Will Smith's performance in Ali. Both actors garnered Oscar nominations.

In Heat, Pacino and De Niro have a climactic scene in a coffee shop, often regarded as a masterclass in acting, where Mann shows his leading men feeling out the relationship they have as hunter and hunted to devastating effect.

"These are not men who have aspirations or ambitions, move into middle age and rationalise that they will do the things they wanted to do in the future and end up at 60-years-old realising there is no more future," he told a newspaper at the time.

"They're self-aware."

'Amazing potential'

For Cruise, whose character displays grey hair and a weariness common among Mann's leading men, Collateral was a risk, but perhaps a calculated one come Oscar-time.

Tom Cruise
Mann admits Cruise was an unusual choice for the Collateral lead
Mann admits the choice of Cruise raised eyebrows, but he seems to have tapped into something in the actor's psyche.

"I cast Tom Cruise in this picture because Tom has got this amazing potential to do three or four things at the same time," he told Empire magazine.

"He has to be credible as a highly trained specialist in close quarter combat... a real person who comes from a real background that produced this degree of sociopathy."

Upcoming projects for Mann include Howard Hughes biography The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett and Kate Beckinsale, which he produced, and next year he will reportedly be in the director's chair again for Arms and the Man.

True to form, the film will tell the partly true story of the world's largest illegal arms trafficker - another addition to Mann's cache of amoral men.



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