By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Moreover, there was the appeal of making a film about undercover police work — a subject left unexamined by Mann’s earlier films about law enforcement officials, career criminals and the often short distance separating the two. “I did some research into people who do very difficult kinds of enhanced undercover work. Really wild stuff — extremely dangerous, long term, some of it outside the country. Stuff that distorts your identity. I thought I knew about undercover — I’d seen Serpico and everything else — but I really hadn’t explored what happens when you go that far undercover.”
It’s Tuesday morning, 10 days before Miami Vice arrives in theaters, and 24 hours after Mann has completed a grueling four-day press junket. As we talk, he gives me a tour of his expansive Santa Monica offices, oddly depopulated now, but until recently home base for Vice’s post-production. In one room, a bank of blinking and whirring hard drives store some 300 hours ofdailies, all shot using the latest generation of high-definition video cameras — the second “film” Mann has made this way, following Collateralin 2004. And there is a screening room powered by a 2K digital projector and a pricey Avid Nitrous computer system, allowing Mann to look at a high-resolution output of the movie on a theater-sized screen, at any stage of the editing process, at any time of the day or night. “We run a 24-hour operation here,” Mann tells me, and it isn’t hard to believe: His reputation as a perfectionist precedes him: On the set, he frequently operates the camera himself. At screenings of his films, he has been known to rope off seats that he feels have an undesirable viewing angle. And right now, he is tape-recording our conversation as well. He is driven and demanding, and he expects nothing less of those who collaborate with him.
“This work is for people who are artistically ambitious,” he says. “This is for people who like challenges. If you want to kick back and take life easy, this is not for you.”
On Vice, in addition to his own exhaustive research, that meant subjecting stars Farrell and Foxx to three months of on-the-job training in Miami, where they worked with local and federal law enforcement officials learning not just how to seem like Crockett and Tubbs, but how to beCrockett and Tubbs. “We ran scenarios. We ran simulations. And they were as close to real reality and lifelike as you can imagine,” says Mann. “We ran loads in from offshore at midnight, in the pitch dark — two boats trying to find each other seven miles out at sea from Miami with no lights, using radio codes and the kind of signals these guys would use on a radio, knowing that stuff may be intercepted, so you’ve got to be talking about something else. And when they were supposed to hit a drop and unload a load, the drop would be blown and they’d have to get to a fallback drop, and when they got to the fallback drop the load would be short: They’re supposed to have 20 kilos and they’ve only got 18. You name it, we did it.”
Mann and I have moved on to his private office — pastel and uncluttered, with sweeping views of the Santa Monica skyline — when we’re interrupted by a cell phone call. It’s Mann’s wife, Summer, asking about a replacement ink cartridge for their home computer printer. The interlude is a powerful corrective to those who might imagine that Mann’s Spartan protagonists are somehow alter-egos or examinations of self: Michael Mann has a wife. Of more than 30 years. Who calls him at work about printer ink. He also has four grown children, including a daughter, Ami, who has followed in her father’s footsteps, writing and directing for TV and the movies. But beyond that, Mann is loath to talk about himself or his personal life, and in that he is like one of his own characters, unwilling to confuse business with pleasure.
This much he will allow: Born in 1943, he grew up in Chicago’s rough-and-tumble Humboldt Park neighborhood, where, as a teenager, he fell deeply under the spell of the burgeoning Chicago blues-music scene. He is the son of Jack Mann, a WWII combat vet whom Mann describes as “a small businessman, and not very successful at it; but he was a spectacular human being — highly, highly principled, and he affected a lot of people’s lives in a lot of ways that I don’t ever really talk about that much.” He was also close to his paternal grandfather, Sam, a Russian immigrant who had fought in the First World War, and says that both men “influenced the way I think about things. They both had dramatic lives, so the idea of some kind of sedentary, mercantile, bourgeois thing, when I was 20 or 21 years old — that was notgoing to happen.” Conspicuously, Mann doesn’t talk about his mother, in this or any other interviews.
Sure of what he didn’t want to do with his life, but unsure of what he did want, Mann enrolled at the politically active University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at the dawn of the turbulent 1960s. ?“I was really impacted upon by the ’60s, so the idea of real life, real people, life in the streets — that's something that's very much a part of my formation,” he says, noting that his cultural interests at the time ranged from Chicago bookies to Che Guevara; his academic ones from geology to history and architecture. Movies came later, when the Madison campus began offering its first courses in film history and film theory. Mann signed up and liked what he saw. But his real inspiration came with the 1963 release of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. “It said to my whole generation of filmmakers that you could make an individual statement of high integrity and have that film be successfully seen by a mass audience all at the same time,” he says. “In other words, you didn’t have to be making Seven Brides for Seven Brothers if you wanted to be a part of the commercial film industry, or be reduced to niche filmmaking if you wanted to be serious about cinema. So that’s what Kubrick meant, aside from the fact that I loved Kubrick and he was a big influence.”