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The Michael Mann Guide to Crime (Originally published on Movie Mezzanine’s THE BALCONY)

If the work of Michael Mann can be identified by anything it’s a meticulousness and almost obsessive pursuit for authenticity. In a filmmaking resume that has often forayed into the world of professional criminals he’s inadvertently provided some stellar advice on how to keep that ‘heat’ from coming around the corner.

1. Generic Explosives are the Best Explosives: Heat (1995)

One of the first things that the L.A Robbery Homicide Division top team lead by Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) does in his appraisal of the armoured car robbery crime scene is to get one of his detectives to examine the explosive used in the hope that it’s exotic. What we’d already observed in the opening scenes (and have confirmed later by one of Hanna’s detectives) is that Val Kilmer’s Chris Shiherlis purchases it with a construction permit, which we can assume is a forgery and that the explosives are generic explosives. This doesn’t allow the detectives to narrow down the crooks by where they get their supply.

2. How to Use Extreme Heat to Melt Large Safes: Thief (1981)

Thief, in and of itself, is an account of a life of crime. ‘Work cars’ fronts for legitimate businesses, a ring of contractors assembling equipment off of the books could possibly all be considered under the ‘tutorial’ banner. However, the most striking and memorable lesson of Thief was the cracking of the thought to be impenetrable safe. In hundreds of heist films, we witness the nozzle twisting and straining to hear nearly inaudible clicks from other safe crackers. When we see the behemoth of an apparatus that cuts through the metal like a phosphorescent knife through butter, James Caan’s Frank affirms that nothing beats a sound scientific knowledge.

3. Smoke ‘em Out: Heat (1995)

The next lesson is that if you do happen to feel some “heat around the corner” there’s a sure fire way to smoke ‘em out. Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his crew take Hanna’s (Pacino) surveillance team of detectives Casals (Wes Studi) and Bosko (Ted Levine) to a large shipping container yard, lightyears away from any score and stage a pretend run down of a future heist. When the crew goes back about their business, the cops return to make sense of the landmarks, the routes and the potential score that they’re discussing. A well placed telephoto lens, a snitch in the L.A.P.D and voila.

4. Boats are Not Apartment Buildings: Miami Vice (2006)

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Just as Sonny (Colin Farrell) is running after Isabella (Gong Li) to take her for a ride in his go-fast-boat (not a euphemism), Jose Yero (John Ortiz) is getting an ear bashing from Rico (Jamie Foxx) about only being able to provide him with the positions of their cargo ships transporting the illegal drugs. If you don’t have a vector, meaning a position and direction that they’ll be travelling in, the unscheduled stop will arouse suspicion.

5. 1930s Human Shields: Public Enemies (2009)

Apart from defining infamy in modern criminality John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) one thing that Public Enemies taught us was that hostages provide excellent cover when you’re eluding capture. If you want the possibility of a date once you released them safely ensure that you pick the most attractive bank customers (case in point: Emilie De Ravin’s Barbara Patzke).

6. How to Leave Your Score?: Miami Vice (2006)

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If you’re undercover and you don’t want to be cannoned into mince meat by the aryan brotherhood, then you make for damned sure that you get to control the drop point. This lesson from Rico (Foxx) explains to Yero (Ortiz) that the way that he and Sonny do business is that when their cargo is ready for collection their buyer will receive a phone confirmation that an unmarked truck with the keys in the cabin will be parked in a random carpark around the city to be collected with the stash inside.

7. Generic is Good; Couture is Bad: Heat (1995), Collateral (2004) and Public Enemies (2009)

A no name brand grey suit is the best outfit to blend in to any situation as we see with De Niro’s Neil and Tom Cruise’s Vincent. Walking in and out of office buildings, book stores, jazz clubs most of the time you won’t garner a second glance. If you happen to dress in something custom (I’m looking at you Mr Dillinger), when the authorities find it they’ll most definitely be able to track it and hone in on a safe house location.

8. Avoid Ever Hiring/Trusting Any Current or Future Members of the Aryan Brotherhood: The Jericho Mile (1979), Heat (1995), Miami Vice (2006)

It’s all in the title.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

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