It’s hard to say what it is that’s surging beneath so many of Michael Mann’s films, what gives them their energy. It could be that he comes the closest to the sublime of any American director. For those keeping score, the word sublime is often used to describe something that reaches heights we did not expect, beyond excellence. But what the term means for artistic works is quite different: it describes a force, somewhat inexplicable, that moves forward and dwarfs everything else around it, that is near-frightening in its intensity. And that’s what we have here, in Michael Mann’s films, which Tom Kramer has managed to get at with this video piece. It’s there in the shimmering tension between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat. It’s there, believe it or not, in Colin Farrell’s momentary love in Miami Vice. Certainly the poor tormented soul at the heart of Manhunter faces it as he goes about his disturbed criminal-profiling craft. And, of course, it pervades The Last of the Mohicans, both in the characters’ relationships with each other and in their facing of the vast, complex mass of untamed America. It could be said that Mann coats his films with too much style, too much visual slickness–and that’s evident in Kramer’s piece too. But, on the other hand, that sense of visual craft could also be said to ameliorate the near-atomic power always simmering within Mann’s subject matter, always threatening to overtake all else.
Watch: The Sublime Presence in Michael Mann’s Films: A Video Essay