His first decade as a director was devoted to shorts, documentaries and TV and although he remained committed to none-more-80’s TV show Miami Vice as executive producer, from 1983’s The Keep onwards, clearly his focus at least as a director has been on his mightily impressive work for the big screen. Almost universally lauded, he is uncommonly gifted when it comes to giving films a stylish sheen without sacrificing narrative and character substance.
Shooting a period piece like Public Enemies on digital cameras succeeded in making it look at once contemporary and of the period, simultaneously telling the history and giving us a commentary on the here and now.
It is telling of the consistency of his output that this Six of the Best does not have room for films as accomplished as Ali, The Keep and Miami Vice. But then, you might not think those films deserve a place in any list, much less this one. Heck, you might think Mann is an over-rated hack (though probably not).
See what you think of these:-
1. The Last of the Mohicans
These days, it is expected that Daniel Day Lewis will draw universal plaudits for his performances and probably remain in character for six months either side of principal photography, but his Method habits go way back to this and to My Left Foot several years before it.
For his role as Hawkeye, he is said to have learned to hunt and fish and lived off the land for months before filming began, so as to be able to fully inhabit his role. There is no questioning his commitment to his craft and the end result makes his effort seem worthwhile, though he cannot claim sole credit for the successes of the film.
As had been the case with The Keep and as would be the case with Ali and Public Enemies, Mann gives us a seemingly faultless depiction of another age, in this instance colonial North America as the British and French fight over control of 18th century territories. Costumes, living conditions, acting performances, script – all of it serves to immerse us in a time now long distant with characters that engage our attention and affections.
Hawkeye’s stirring speech behind the waterfall to Madeleine Stowe’s Cora (“Stay alive, no matter what occurs. I will find you”) could have been mushy and melodramatic in lesser hands but here it is beautifully and affectingly crafted – direction, acting, script, photography and score blending to compelling effect.
It is to the film’s and Mann’s credit that he succeeds in telling a thrilling tale at the same time as presenting us with something more profound and over-arching relating to the beginning of the diminishing of Native American culture and civilisation. There is a profound and melancholic sense of something passing and fading and although these themes did not originate with Mann (this is one of a multitude of adaptations from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel) he does well in making the film his own, keeping it from being lost amidst the number of other versions out there.