Why Michael Mann's Return to TV With 'Tokyo Vice' Is a Big Deal
The director of Heat and Miami Vice is making his return to television, and, hopefully, other A-listers will soon follow his lead.
Michael Mann became one of the big screen's most talented and demanding auteurs with the launch pad that was NBC's Miami Vice. That landmark TV series, about pastel-wearing undercover cops struggling to stop drug dealers and criminals, with Phil Collins synth on the soundtrack and go-fast boats at their disposal, became basically a live-action meme with commercial breaks. It also solidified a visual style and vocabulary that would make Mann the go-to guy for gritty crime stories with big emotional stakes. He's going to be applying that skill set once again, with the news Tuesday that Mann will helm the Tokyo Vice pilot episode for HBO Max.
Tokyo Vice stars Ken Watanabe (Inception) and Baby Driver's Ansel Elgort and is based on U.S. reporter Jake Adelstein's non-fiction memoir about his experience with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. J.T. Rogers adapted it into the show, which will chronicle Adelstein's (Elgort) violent, neon-soaked decent into Tokyo's criminal underbelly. Mann could potentially direct more episodes of Vice's first season, as he comes onboard as an EP director and will set the tone for the series and for future directors to follow.
For the cheap seats: That is a huge get for the upcoming streamer. Right up there with Netflix getting Scorsese. And this could be a portend for more A-list talent traveling to streamers -- especially one with strong filmmaker connections, like WarnerMedia's HBO Max.
Mann's last and most infamous stint in TV was with HBO's Luck. That problematic series from 2011 had Mann and showrunner David Milch (Deadwood) and star Dustin Hoffman telling story about gambling, horse racing, and revenge. The deaths of several horses incurred the wrath of PETA (justifiably) and forced HBO's hand to cancel the series after struggling with the creative demands of 800-lb. gorillas Mann and Milch. In the eight years since Luck was cancelled, Mann has struggled to find critical and commercial success on the big screen as director. His last film, the Chris Hemsworth-starring hacker thriller Blackhat, was largely met with bad reviews and audience indifference. (Mann is a producer on the much-anticipated Ford v. Ferrari, an Oscar contender he tried to get off the ground as a director for years before James Mangold stepped in for the November release.)
Long story less long: Mann's less-than-stellar box office track record as of late, coupled with TV and streamers becoming an attractive safe haven of sorts for feature film directors in similar spots like Mann, is a big win for both HBO Max and for the guy who gave us modern classics like Heat, Thief, and the very underrated The Insider. (More on The Insider soon to celebrate the film's upcoming 20th anniversary.)
Bringing A-listers with big screen cred like Mann to streaming services is another salvo fired at the theatrical exhibition business; the thinking being "Hey, if you liked paying to see this person's movies in theaters, you'll pay to see what they do next from the comfort of your couch." It's also ironic that WarnerMedia, which owns studio Warner Bros., is firing this shot across their own bow.
What You Can Learn
Even filmmakers in Mann's league have ups and downs. Work is work, even if it is on a streamer -- which is where most of our best stories are currently being told, with some of the best talents and filmmakers telling them.
So if you have a Blackhat-level set back, or just stumbling creatively, maintain hope. Because there are so many outputs needing to be serviced with content. You can solve their problem, and yours, by working together.