In the ‘Heat’ of “The Dark Knight’

The influence of Mann’s masterful crime film on the best Batman movie ever.

Directors often have their cast and crew watch specific films before entering production. On the set of There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson routinely screened John Huston’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre because it contained the tone of desperate greed Anderson was striving for in his own film. Before shooting began on Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards had his team watch a list of films including The Bridge over the River Kwai and Twelve O’ Clock High to show them the kind of war flick he was aiming for. And just before production began on the second – and best, in most opinions – of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight, he had his production heads watch Michael Mann’s Heat.

And yes, there are obvious parallels like the bank robberies that open both films, or the concept of a small, paramilitary force operating within the limits of a major metropolis, but it wasn’t necessarily the specifics of plot and character that made Nolan interested in Mann’s film. In Nolan’s own words:

“I always felt Heat to be a remarkable demonstration of how you can create a vast universe within one city and balance a very large number of characters and their emotional journeys in an effective manner.”

In the latest comparative video essay from Glass Distortion, the visual echoes of Heat in The Dark Knight are explored by setting an assembly of scenes side-by-side to show how Nolan learned how to deftly balance his urban universe by following Mann’s lead. Not only Heat is included, however, but also the TV movie Mann made first about the same scenario, L.A. Takedown, as well as his films The Insider and Collateral, the latter two of which also make use of large casts in intersecting spheres, and self-contained universes, respectively.

The success, I think, not just of The Dark Knight but of the entire Nolan trilogy lies in its ties to reality. Nolan’s Gotham isn’t drenched in campy neon and pastels like the Adam West series or the Joel Schumacher offences, nor is it overtly Gothic and expressionistic like the cinematic realm Tim Burton created. Nolan’s Gotham and in turn his Batman are of our world, it and he are both light and dark in shifting proportions, stark and blunt and obedient to natural laws. Given this, it’s easy to see how a filmmaker like Michael Mann had an influential hand in Nolan’s success; this video makes it even easier to see.