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Reel to Real: Mann Slams Modern Action Films. Is He Right or Wrong?


Michael Mann is probably responsible for some of the most cerebral and character-driven action films, having thrown out hits in the genre since the early 1980's. Whether it's Thief, Manhunter, Miami Vice, Collateral, or Heat, Mann takes to the genre often with thriller and psychological elements. Nowadays, though, he's not particularly pleased with how the genre has changed giving his recent interview with Total Film magazine in which he bluntly gave the following critiques:

I’m just bored by it. It’s not very interesting. I mean, sometimes the choreography is so outrageous that it’s fascinating, and it is quite good. But generally, no. It’s just stale.

In recent years, Mann's most notable action film Heat has seen many carbon copies, notably the 2018 film Den of Thieves which tried to do similar things to Mann's film such as covering the perspectives of both cops and thieves. However, Den of Thieves came under fire for being mostly just a carbon copy of Mann's film while being noted as far more bland with less complex characters. It seems Mann is basically saying that a major issue with newer action films is the lack of character to them. Replacing characters like Al Pacino's Lieutenant Vincent Hanna who suffers a rough home life and struggles with his duty as a cop, we have Gerard Butler playing a corrupt and intoxicated cop who cheats on his wife with no real redeeming qualities. Replacing Robert De Niro's Neil McCauley who has intelligence and even conscience that finds a doomed love, you have Pablo Schreiber playing a generic marine-turned-thief who is ready to kill anyone who gets in his way.

The 2021 film Wrath of Man had a similar element, broken into chapters that delved into the perspectives of the main character, the money truck drivers, and the thieves that are trying to rob them. Though, again, no character is given more than paper-thin backstories that drive their otherwise monotonous and cruel actions. In fact, in that film, it seems the best way to give credit to the various characters is to establish even more background characters in comparison. This is not to say there are not great action movies anymore, such as John Wick or the 2018 sci-fi action film Upgrade, not to mention foreign successes such as The Raid. However, these are often smaller indie films that one might argue just use limited budgets to maximum effect. Not to mention leaning on remakes, legacy sequels of classic films, etc.

What do you think, Sleuth News commentators? Do you think Michael Mann is right about modern action movies or off by a mile?

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