Sunday, 15 February 2009

Michael Mann's LA Takedown

I had an hour and a half to spare this afternoon, so I had a screening of Michael Mann's 1989 TV film LA Takedown. This would appear to be a minor entry in the director's cannon of films, but in retrospect it’s now seen as the dress rehearsal for the epic undertakings of his crime saga masterpiece Heat. I'm not up to speed on the making of LA Takedown, but it looks like Mann shot this one fast, loose and cheap - it has none of the slickness of the Miami Vice series, and is almost workmanlike compared to Thief and Manhunter. However, this has all the regular Mann elements - tough street dialogue, Jan Hammer-style ambiance, and the poetry of the urban landscape.

What makes the film so enjoyable to watch now is comparing it to Heat. Running for just over 90min, the bulk of LA Takedown was lifted for Heat. Most of the dialogue survived, Mann only made minor revisions to his screenplay. In some cases dialogue is used in different scenes for different characters - but most of the major set pieces in Heat are found in LA Takedown - the opening robbery, Waingro's murder of the prostitute, the botched surveillance job by the cops, the coffee-shop sequence, and the street shootout. The Pacino/De Niro face-off at the coffee shop in Heat is taken word for word from the scene in LA Takedown, so Mann must have really locked down the screenplay - no improvising here.


With HEAT, Mann expanded his tight TV movie into a 3-hour epic and introduces new characters and back stories, like the getaway driver (who only appears at bank robbery in the TV film), or the Roger Van Sant character. The most radical revisions to the script are the expansion of the Val Kilmer character and the introduction of the Ashley Judd character. Also, the ending of Heat at LAX is brand new. In LA Takedown the film ends with a shoot out at Waingro's hotel.

The acting is variable in the TV film - Scott Plank who plays the Vicent Hanna character is fine. Less so is Alex McArthur who plays the De Niro character (here named Patrick McLaren) - he's a little too intense for my liking - De Niro brought much more subtlety to the part. Alex McArthur is recognizable as the serial killer from Friedkin's Rampage. Also, appearing in the film is Michael Rooker some three years after his iconic turn in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Sadly he has nothing to do in this film. If You can find this on DVD, its worth picking up. My copy is the UK MIA edition, released in 2000 and like other MIA DVDs it’s only a minor step up from VHS.

6 comments:

  1. Great site you have here! Happy we found it.

    Always wanted to see L.A. Takedown. Will have to track down a copy.

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  2. Thanks a bunch Ty for the comment, really appreciate it. Definitly track down a copy of LA Takedown, its a fascinating experience...

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  3. I remember the furor in the 90's when someone figured out that Heat was a remake of this TV movie. People acted like Michael Mann had betrayed us all. I haven't seen Takedown but I have definitely seen Heat which is a cool watch. However, it's not my favorite movie called Heat. Call me crazy, but I prefer the 80's Heat starring Burt Reynolds. Smaller time investment if nothing else!

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  4. Craig, this one is well worth seeking out if only to compare it with Heat - it's quite rough and ready for a Michael Mann-directed film, but fascinating nonetheless. I'm trying to think of another film that was road tested first as a TV movie but I'm drawing a blank. If I have my facts right, Michael Mann was kicking the screenplay for Heat around for years but kept on putting it on the long finger for various reasons. For me the film is one of the great masterpieces of American Cinema, and I can still get excited about sitting down with the film... That Burt Reynolds film is new to me, but I was quite intrigued reading up about it, will definitely look out for it. Not to doubt you Craig but when I first read your comment I thought you were thinking of City Heat, the 1984 crime comedy with Reynolds and Clint Eastwood !

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    1. Well with Mann's Heat being one of your favorites you'll need to dial your expectations down for Burt's. But it was written by William Goldman so it has that. I can understand the confusion with City Heat - I like that one too.

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  5. I've been reading up on the film and it's had quite a checkered history - William Goldman claims the film passed thru six directors... Yeah, I'd like to see this one for sure !

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