Simultaneously a tough guy and a sap, a realist and a romantic, director Michael Mann has for decades now been making movies about what it means to be a man. He chooses to tell these stories in familiar settings, setting his fairly measured character studies in the kind of testosterone-soaked milieu that has been favored by a century of manly filmmakers. Mann has made movies about cops and robbers. There’s one about a cab driver and an assassin, one about a whistleblower and another about a great athlete. He’s even made a supernatural horror movie set among Nazis. But he keeps returning to the subject of heroes and villains, about the role-playing that takes place when good guys go head-to-head with bad guys, and about what happens when the line between antagonist and protagonist gets blurred.
There’s a scene somewhere in the middle of Miami Vice where Crockett, feeling some oats, sensibly decides to sow them in the direction of Gong Li. They get on a speedboat and whiz off into the ocean blue. You can tell she’s sweet on him, and when she announces she’s taking him to her hang-outs in Havana — Havana! — for mojitos and dancing and maybe something more, suddenly this hard-boiled cop movie inflates with a sense of romantic wonder and possibility. To get on a boat in Miami, tear away from the shore and bounce across the waves, setting a course for Havana?
At precisely the halfway point of Heat, Michael Mann’s 171-minute epic of a crime drama, cop Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) tucks in behind criminal mastermind Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) on the highway, pulls him over with flashing lights, and asks him if he wants to go get a cup of coffee.