It says something about the kind of juice Michael Mann had within the industry in 1989 that he was able to create – and get on television – a rough draft for a film he would make six years later. He wrote an early draft of what would become Heat in 1979 that was 180 pages and based on real people he knew both personally and by reputation in Chicago. Ten years later, he cut the screenplay down to 110 pages and raised the financing himself so that he owned the rights to the material. The result was a made-for-television movie entitled L.A. Takedown, a cat-and-mouse story between a career criminal and a dedicated police detective that aired on NBC on August 27, 1989 at 9 p.m.
The most interesting casting in the movie is Hanna’s team, which includes Richard Chaves (Predator), Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer), and Daniel Baldwin (John Carpenter’s Vampires). Unfortunately, they hardly get any screen time and therefore make little impact. Plank is okay as Hanna but lacks the confident swagger that Al Pacino brought to the role. That being said, he does have a nice moment with his estranged wife, Lillian (Ely Pouget), near the end, after McLaren is killed, where he admits that he loves her but isn’t going to change.
There are some enjoyable bits of business, such as a montage of Hanna working the streets of L.A., asking around about McLaren and his crew. Mann gives us a brief slice of the city’s night life via quick, broad strokes. Perhaps what is most striking about L.A. Takedown is how it doesn’t feel or look like a Mann production. While Ron Garcia’s (Twin Peaks) cinematography is just fine, it lacks the widescreen mastery of Dante Spinotti’s work in Heat. The T.V. movie’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio certainly doesn’t do it any favors, giving it a boxed-in feel as opposed to Heat’s 2.39:1 aspect ratio, which opens everything up and gives the film more of an epic feel. The lack of Mann’s distinctive touch may also be due to the incredibly fast shoot – uncharacteristic for the methodical filmmaker – with only ten days of pre-production and 19 days of shooting. In comparison, Heat had a six-month pre-production period and a 107-day shooting schedule.