Michael Mann is a highly imperfect director, a filmmaker who's sometimes lauded as great when perhaps he's really only a smart storyteller with good visual instincts. Then again, in an age when an expensive, miserable mess like the recent "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is viewed by Hollywood as movie gold because of its box-office performance, maybe that's enough. At the very least, Mann's movies always feel as if they were made by a human being, and if he's sometimes guilty of allowing flashy filmmaking style to overwhelm his subject -- as in the case of the uneven but intriguing "Ali" -- at least his movies always suggest a guiding visual and narrative sensibility. He's driven by a desire to make stuff look cool, sometimes at the expense of characterization, but he at least understands that his desire isn't the star of the show. You can't wish coolness into being; it simply has to happen, as the result of small choices as well as big ones.
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