banner image

:: Miami Vice

When is an action blockbuster not an action blockbuster? When Michael Mann directs it; the maverick auteur whose distinct visual style often blinds people to the emotional resonance that he gives to his characters. Think of The Last Of The Mohicans, Heat, and Collateral, all major studio films starring Hollywood heavyweights, but they are anything but mindless entertainment. Save that distinction for Michael Bay and his commitment to making the loudest films on the planet. Mann’s latest effort, Miami Vice, is another one that bucks the popcorn flick trend, by offering us a crime movie that challenges us to think. The characters are complex and morally ambiguous and no time is taken to spoon feed the audience as the first scene drops you smack bang in to the middle of a stakeout. Things move quickly and you have to keep up or risk being left behind.

This is not so much a retread of the TV show as it is an updating for a more cynical and dangerous world. Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are still there, but the sunny glamour of Florida has been transformed into a perpetually dark war zone in which global drug deals are made between powerful Cubans and ruthless white supremacists. The duo are asked to go undercover as transporters for the largest drug importer in Cuba in order to find out which government agency contains a mole. Of course, in the murky world of organised crime, how far you take your cover can have some devastating consequences, like when Crockett embarks on an affair with the crime boss’ lady, Isabella (Gong Li). What is initially just another avenue to gain information becomes more complex when he finds himself falling for her.

Of course this is nothing new to the crime genre, but what does work exceptionally well is how much you believe in their attraction. In this sometimes ludicrous world of speedboats, machine guns and beachfront mansions, Mann gives the lovers an honest core, partially based on raw physical attraction, but also containing a tenderness and concern, like when Crockett walks Isabella along the water and subtly suggests that she leave her job. You can tell that he has fallen for her and is genuinely dreading the day when his badge comes out and their world will come crashing down.

Although both Foxx and Farrell are giving equal billing, it does really feel like Farrell’s movie and he commits himself with aplomb. He is physically bigger, sleazy, and hard-bitten – all the things you’d expect an undercover cop in his position to be. But again, most of the credit must go to Mann, because it is the world he has created, shot beautifully with the HD Viper camera, which really comes to life. His ability to tap into the zeitgeist and reinvent a show that hit its mark in the 1980’s and somehow reinvent it to make it a relevant film today is the thing that separates him from most of his contemporaries.