Release Date: December 5, 2006
Michael Mann (Heat, Collateral) does not make action movies–he makes crime dramas. Never was this distinction more apparent than in Miami Vice, which hits DVD in an unrated director’s cut after a disappointing midsummer theatrical run. Perhaps the most misunderstood and mis-marketed film of the year, Vice, which was billed as a warm-weather action shoot-em-up, confused audiences with its artistic complexities and unique blend of grit and sensitivity.
A more thoughtful viewing, devoid of these false expectations, reveals Vice‘s truer nature: a beautiful expression of life on the edge told in the vibrant visual language of Mann and Director of Photography Dion Beebe. Here, on the rooftop of a downtown Miami nightclub, we see a dark night sky highlighted by a burning, deep magenta amid ominous lightning strikes. There, across a midtown freeway, the action is bathed in the buzzing amber luminescence of street lamps. Mann and Beebe reprise their use of digital film, which they employed to great success in Collateral, and the results are often stunning. Indeed, almost any given frame from Vice could be hung on a wall as a piece of art.
But Miami Vice isn’t just about impressive imagery. It’s the documentation of an undercover narcotics operation that takes detectives Ricardo Tubbs and Sonny Crockett (Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell) to South America and back. Mann’s detached camera angles do not merely tell their story; instead, the audience bears witness to the interplay of crime and consequence. Matters become complicated when Crockett finds himself romantically entangled with Isabella (Gong Li), a major player within the narcotics op they’re supposed to bust. Meanwhile, mid level dealer Jose Yero (John Ortiz), who is skeptical of Tubbs and Crockett from the start, plots their downfall. It’s fascinating to watch the cops try to sell their assumed undercover identities to the bad guys, using a mix of arrogance, sheer badassness, and the everyday paranoia you’d expect from career criminals.
Foxx and Farrell were criticized by moviegoers for their apparent lack of on screen chemistry. Unfortunately, those looking for Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte won’t find them here. But in reality, emotional detachment is a way of life for these lawmen. Tubbs and Crocket, two loners who work together, speak with an economy that suggests years of experience and deep personal knowledge of one another. Before an undercover sting, Tubbs asks, “Who are we [pretending to be?]“; Crockett responds, “How’s your Creole?” Period. Before Tubbs can even warn him of the combustible nature of a relationship with Isabella, Crockett quips, “I know what I’m doing.” Understood.
In fact, in avoiding the cliched buddy-cop formula, Mann’s taut script and his two controlled leads have created something real and authentic. Farrell in particular shines. You can see the tension between his feelings for Isabella and his duties, and sense the masculine pride he uses to cover it all up. As an undercover cop, Sonny Crockett exists in more than one layer, and Farrell gradually, patiently lets the cracks show at just the right times. We are not watching an actor; Farrell simply is this character.
Just as he did in Heat, Mann uses action almost exclusively as a plot enhancer. When two feds are ambushed and shot in their car, the camera filters the action from inside the vehicle–in a sense, the audience feels what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the shootout. A trailer park raid boils over with the uneasy tension you’d expect from the real thing. A climactic final shootout echoes with the hollow sounds of real gunfire, and drops of blood splash onto the lens. In Miami Vice, we aren’t just watching a movie. Mann takes the whole audience undercover until, along with the Vice Squad detectives, we’re experiencing this world from the inside.
Special Features: Aside from an opening boat race scene, the director’s edition footage is not altogether noticeable. Special features include the usual making-of and behind-the-scenes looks, including a worthwhile glance at Colin Farrell’s undercover training. Michael Mann’s feature commentary goes into such depth, you’ll think you’re in a film class lecture (weren’t you curious about the horsepower on those Go-Fast boats?)