The Gun films of Michael Mann

Gun nuts, we need to have a talk. After some truly deep thinking and a review of much of his work, I’ve realized something: Heat isn’t that good.

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m of course referring to the films of Michael Mann, one of very few Hollywood directors that takes his gunhandling seriously. He’s directed 5 movies that are generally held in high regard by gun nuts for their technical expertise in gunhandling. I’m including Last of the Mohicans in that five because black powder fans need lovin’ too. Here are the five films in order from most recent to oldest:

  • Public Enemies
  • Miami Vice
  • Collateral
  • Heat
  • The Last of the Mohicans

You might be able to argue for the inclusion of 1986’s Manhunter on the list, but we’ll leave it off for now. I had a moment of clarity last night while watching Collateral and Public Enemies back to back – those are good movies. And they’re a lot better than Heat.

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Let’s break down Heat for just a second – the story is convoluted and doesn’t make a lot of sense, there are plot holes and character inconsistencies you could drive a fire truck through, and Al Pacino spends the entire movie chewing the scenery and shouting. It’s basically a loosely constructed vehicle to get Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino into various scenes together. It’s not a bad movie by any stretch, but it’s also not that good.

So why does Heat get held in such high regard by gun nuts? Because it was special at the time. Heat came out in 1995 (noodle on that for a moment, that movie is old enough to vote). Here’s a short list of other action/thrillers that came out that year: Bad Boys, Assassins, Congo (I saw that in the theatre), Goldeneye, Desperado, Judge Dredd, and Die Hard 3. While some of those movies are really awesome movies, you can’t really characterize the action sequences in any of them as “gritty” or “realistic.” Heat gave us a film with gritty, realistic, and technically excellent gun handling in an era of chopping gorillas in half with a diamond powered laser and Pierce Brosnan driving a tank around Russia wrecking stuff.

So Heat gets a pass from us because it was different from all the other action going on at the time. Which is great, but I don’t think Heat holds up as well. Here’s The Gun Nuts List of Best to Worst in Michael Man’s Gun Nut Movies:

  1. Collateral: This movie has spawned more IDPA stages than any other film, ever. Great performances by Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise carry this movie, and the taught action with a little bit of levity makes it the best of the lot. “Yo homey, is that my briefcase?”
  2. Public Enemies: While the movie takes a considerable amount of historical license with the events surrounding John Dillinger’s life and eventual death, it never stalls out. You feel like you’re along for the ride with Dillinger and crew as they’re pursued by Batman Agent Purvis as played by Christian Bale. It’s a tight story with incredible action sequences.
  3. The Last of the Mohicans: I admit, I didn’t like this movie at first, because it was nothing like the book. Once I got over that though, this is a really excellent movie. Mohicans probably gets rated higher than it deserves on my list because of the amazing, driving soundtrack during the final action sequence.
  4. Heat: Heat’s biggest weakness is the story. There’s too much going on, and too many sideplots. It stalls out in places as a result of this, and you feel like you’re waiting around for the stuff that’s interesting to happen again. Heat would be the number 1 movie on the list if you deleted the side plot with Amy Brenneman’s character entirely and the side plot with Al Pacino’s step-daughter entirely.
  5. Miami Vice: This is not a good movie. Yes, the action sequences are vintage Michael Mann, and the final boatyard shootout is awesome, but this movie is just not very good. It’s basically Romeo and Juliet with machine guns and go-fast boats. Seriously, think about it – Crockett is Romeo, and chick is Juliet. They’re from rival houses, and everyone dies.

We hope you enjoyed this brief look into the films of Michael Mann. For more movies and TV, check out the November issue of GunUp the Magazine, featuring the Guns of Strike Back!

12 thoughts on “The Gun films of Michael Mann”

  1. Thief, caper film with James Caan. His first film and shows his attention to detail even then.

      1. If you really think that Heat had a weak story, as opposed to a complicated one, then you don’t understand Michael Mann’s style of direction. If you really think that the Miami Vice movie was a Romeo and Juliet remake, then I have to question whether you watched the movie at all.

        Perhaps Strike Back might be more your speed…

        1. Nope. Heat’s story was overwrought frippery. The central conflict of DeNiro vs. Pacino is diluted by the silly romantic sideplot and the daughter nonsense.

          Miami Vice, as a movie isn’t nearly as good as the television show was. It lacked the character depth, it lacked the acting talent (except for Jamie Fox) and while it was beautifully shot, is just not a good movie. 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, the pacing is terrible, the acting (except for Jamie Fox) is miserable, and if it wasn’t for the amazing cinematography and gunfight at the end it would just be awful.

          Neither of those movies hold a candle to Mohicans or Collateral; or for that matter The Kingdom which Mann was Exec Producer on.

          Don’t hate me because I bring uncomfortable truths.

  2. You’re right, and aren’t the only person to make that argument. Heat is a decent movie with great gun scenes, and should have been much more. The storyline is crowded. Pacino and Deniro are great actors who kinda fizzle in the movie, especially in their scenes together. I’d go so far as to say that Val Kilmer outshines them both at times.

  3. Well, as others have said, you shouldn’t leave Thief out. But, whatever. Heat was and has been so popular, I think, because of the bank scene. Whatever else you think about the movie, it’s in the top five movie gunfights ever shot. Length, technical detail, handling, all awesome. I agree also, it’s a movie made to skip parts on DVD. I can watch it in about 90 minutes, because I skip all of the BS with Pacino’s fifth wife and Padme Skywalker. What else? The music over the end scene of Mohicans gives me chills whenever I watch it. Magua’s hand out to Alice before she steps off, Chingachgook’s disassembly of Magua shortly thereafter; amazing.
    Where Mann shines is his prep of everyone who handles a firearm in his movies. For example, Mark Ruffalo the LAPD narc going into the apartment of the dead dealer with a Smith 3913? Someone made sure he knew what he was doing, even if he didn’t fire a shot in the movie.
    Mann is a great director and stylist, and I will see whatever movies he keep making.

    1. In Thief, Mann had the actors go to API under Cooper. Apparently (per the internet) when Cooper heard he was playing a bad guy (anti-hero) he refused to train him so Chuck Taylor (then the lead instructor?) had to take him off site to teach him.

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