The body of work of Michael Mann is one of the greatest in modern cinema, or indeed any cinema. There is too much to write about for just one post, but today I will highlight the presence of animals, metaphorical and real, in his films.
In Heat (1995) Justine Hanna (Diane Venora) says to her husband Vincent (Al Pacino) "You sift through the detritus, you read the terrain, you search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey, and then you hunt them down." It is one of many examples of links, implied or explicit, between humans and animals in Mann's films.
There is for example a visual link between Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) in The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Vincent Hanna in Heat. In the beginning of the film Hawkeye is running through the forest, hunting a deer, and eventually he shoots it with a rifle. Just after the shot is fired there is a close-up of his face, and in slow motion he lowers the weapon. In the end of Heat, there is the same shot, this time of Hanna's face after he has just shot his prey, Neil McCauley (Robert de Niro).
In Manhunter (1986) there is an amazing scene where the blind woman Reba McClane (Joan Allen) caresses a sedated tiger at an animal hospital, while the man who is her would-be killer (Tom Noonan) is watching, acting like if it was him she was caressing.
In Collateral (2004) when Vince (Tom Cruise) and Max (Jamie Foxx) are driving through some L.A. wasteland they encounter two coyotes, crossing the street. In one sense the two coyotes are Max and Vince, and at the same time their appearance changes everything because it happens right before there is a switch in the power structure between Vince and Max, with Max getting the upper hand.
These connections between animals and humans, and the transferring of the roles of hunter and hunted from one character to another, says a lot about Mann's view of his characters. It also seems to suggest that in this world, if you scratch the surface, you will find we are all animals, with basic predatory needs. Perhaps there are only two kinds of men in this world, savages and noble savages.