By Michael Aushenker
Michael Mann is not one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers, but the films he has made have left an indelible impression on cinephiles. On Sunday, fans will get to hear him speak at a screening of his 1981 directorial debut, “Thief,” during an American Cinematheque event at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
Based on the 1975 novel “The Home Invaders: Confessions of a Cat Burglar” by Frank Hohimer (a pseudonym for jewel robber John Seybold), “Thief” stars James Caan as the super-criminal Frank, out on one last big score working for Leo (Robert Protsky). When Leo tries to extort more jobs and threatens Frank’s family, Frank must confront Leo and his enforcers, headed by Dennis Farina (later star of Mann’s short-lived series “Crime Story”). Tuesday Weld, James Belushi, Willie Nelson and William Petersen appear in supporting roles.
Before Anthony Hopkins could pair fava beans and a nice Chianti with human flesh, Mann brought serial killer Hannibal Lecktor to the screen in 1986’s “Manhunter.” But Mann is perhaps best loved for 1995’s “Heat,” a cops-and-robbers thriller that became the first film to pair acting icons Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino onscreen — for exactly one scene. (While both actors appeared in “The Godfather Part II,” they didn’t share any screen time in Francis Ford Coppola’s flashbacking sequel.)
Sunday’s conversation with Mann should be fascinating. Since “Thief,’ the 70-year-old has also directed the 1999 whistleblower epic, “The Insider,” which garnered seven Academy Awards nominations, and landed Will Smith one of two career Oscar nominations for his title turn in 2001’s “Ali.” As a producer, Mann gave us 1980s TV sensation “Miami Vice” (which he directed as a 2006 movie) and Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated 2004 Howard Hughes biopic, “The Aviator.”
In his most recent directorial effort, Mann went back to portraying the criminal element with “Public Enemies,” a telling of the John Dillinger story in which Johnny Depp portrayed the Notorious bank robber. With the aid of Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis, Mann applied his stylized cinematic eye to this intense period piece and upended the slick, contemporary crime stories he excels at — cementing how, when it comes to underworld epics, it’s pretty much Mann’s world.
Michael Mann appears at 7:30 p.m. Sunday during a double feature of “Thief” and Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo” at The Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. Visit aerotheatre.com.