Miami Vice (review)

No Dope

Miami vice detectives Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs are on their way to meet über drug lord Montoya in a seedy, ramshackle South American town… and they can’t get signals on their cell phones. They’re being jammed. “This is the kind of stuff the CIA uses — in Baghdad,” Rico muses. “What’s it doing on a dope deal?” Sonny wonders ominously. And if you’re used to the typical Hollywood crap, you can’t help but start to pick apart the threads of the movie: “Okay, he’s gonna turn out to be the secret undercover CIA mole operating from within Montoya’s organization. No, wait! It’s her, she’s an agent who’s been turned by Montoya!”

Thing is, this is a Michael Mann flick, and Mann (Collateral, The Insider) doesn’t mess around with crap. There is no compromised spook or CIA mole… or if there is, we never know about it. We never find out if there’s any particular reason why high-end government-type toys are in the employ of a bad guy. Sonny’s question is never answered.
Except… except that it’s a tiny thread carefully woven into the tapestry of the godawful mess that is the global international drug trade and the paramilitary law-enforcement agencies who skirmish with the traders. This is no simplistic crime drama about the thin line between cops and criminals and golly gee, ain’t it ironic how alike they all are. God, that’s been done to death, and it’s gotten real boring. Miami Vice goes a step further and suggests that now, today, there is no line that’s any different from an arbitrary border that separates two tribes, two armies. The criminal enterprises are indistinguishable from corporations or governments — Montoya is practically a dictator without a country, so why shouldn’t he have all the latest toys his brothers in presidential palaces and CEO boardrooms have? — and they are well matched with their crime-fighter opponents, none of whom, of those we meet, are motivated by any such noble desires as keeping drugs out of the hands of kiddies. Nope: the cops are, like any soldiers in any war, no matter why it started or who the enemy is, motivated by loyalty to their fellows, and a desire for revenge on those who kill them. They could be fighting over anything scarce and desirable — the drugs are incidental.

And it’s into this world that Mann drops us, without explanation, without a chance to let us catch our breath once we’re there. It’s an alien world in many ways, full of people speaking alien languages of intermingled business, drug, and cop jargon, and none of it is translated, and none of it slows down to wait for us to catch up. It’s gritty and beguiling and vivid. Mann throws us into a snake pit of story that is doesn’t feel linear (though it is), that weaves threads into that tapestry without resolving all of them, that crashes together people — men and women on both sides of that arbitrary line — who are as smart as they are dangerous, that leaves you thrilled that Mann (who wrote the screenplay as well as directs) assumes we’re smart enough not to need every question answered, assumes that we’re adult enough to handle ambiguity and a cynical approximation of the real world, where frustration dogs us and thwarts us and defies us to retain our sanity in the face of it.

You don’t “enjoy” this movie — you’re enthralled by it. There’s a gun battle at the film’s climax that makes you feel as if you’ve never in your life seen people shooting at one another onscreen. You’re there, in the chaos and the danger and the sense that you’ve been cut adrift from the rest of the world and that it all comes down to this one moment: you live, or you die. Mann may be the first filmmaker to choose to shoot on high-definition digital video for artistic reasons, not economic ones, and the crisp immediacy of DV captures the flash of machine-gun fire and the ozone-y haze of the nighttime Florida sky with a jittery saturation.

Forget the pastels and glamour of Mann’s 80s TV show — this is a complete reimagining that is resolutely of the moment, that doesn’t deign to a single winking nod to the past. Colin Farrell (Ask the Dust, Alexander) and Jamie Foxx (Jarhead, Stealth) as, respectively, Crockett and Tubbs, spin elegant, unshowy performances that cleverly subsume the characters into the tapestry while never letting us forget why they are more than stars: they’re craftsmen of the finest order. They take on the iconic cops like they’re brand new to us, which means the result is that they are.

(Technorati tags: , , , )

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

5 thoughts on “Miami Vice (review)”

  1. Thank you for the REAL review. Welcome to the world of DRUGS. You never know what you are dealing with and this movie puts it right into perspective. This is not Miami Vice from the 80’s its Miami Vice of 2006. I am a huge fan of the TV series and I would have been very disappointed if this movie was not from today’s perspective. I tought the drifting with music reminded me of the TV series but with today’s women, cars, boats, action sceens and music. I loved the bond between Crokett and Tubs. They knew what each other are thinking and breathing each moment and it showed with their trust in each other. I loved the line “I just wondered if you know whcih way is up?” Followed by “I never doubted you”. Power lines for me. Trust in each other is what you need in order to go to a foreign country and play with drug lords on their turf and time without back up waiting to go into business with them wondering if they know you are a Vice cop. WOW. Michael Mann does a great job of letting us feel this underworld and taboo lifestyle. Great camera angles too.

    As always the Drug Lord gets away and wheels of good vs. evil still are very much alive!

    Thank you for looking past the other write ups of its not like the 80’s TV show. Thank God its updated, twisted and leaves you thinking. Gee maybe I will have to see it again and again to try and peace it all together. Is that really a bad thing. Bryan

  2. I also thought the movie was excellent. I don’t know if I’d put it up there with Heat, but this is definitely a film that warrants multiple viewings.

    It’s a pity the majority of moviegoers don’t have the patience to enjoy a movie like Miami Vice. I don’t think the “action-packed” marketing strategy helps, either.

    Good review. In fact, great review. Nailed it.

    And how about the film’s beginning?! Wow.

  3. This film is incredible!!!!!!!!! the performances, the writing, cinamatography!!!!!!!!!! EVERTHING! Michael Mann is a genius!!!! I never had any doubt, but i didn’t know it would blow me away like this!!!!!!!!!!!

Comments are closed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap