The 2006 feature version of MIAMI VICE is screening tonight in Brooklyn as part of BAMcinématek’s HEAT & VICE: THE FILMS OF MICHAEL MANN series. The following is what I wrote about the movie five years after its release, when I named it one of my top ten favorite movies of the previous decade. The film seems to have grown considerably in critical estimation since 2006, but ten years ago the movie was an embattled production and accordingly I took a fair amount of guano for loving it as much as I did and do, so pardon me for sounding a little defensive. (Not for nothing, but look how things shook out.)
I’m sure that there are people who will roll their eyes or sneer at my inclusion of Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE feature in my top ten of the entire decade, but that’s fine. I never started compiling this list with the intention of sounding smarter or cooler than anyone else.
These are the movies that I responded to the most, the ones that I am happiest to revisit. MIAMI VICE is probably the least beloved by other people of any other movie on my list, and I think there are two reasons for that.
One is expectations. If what we saw in the MIAMI VICE movie was presented instead as a pilot for a re-launched HBO Miami Vice TV series, I bet people would have loved it a lot more. While the movie is very detail-oriented when it comes to the world and the work it depicts, the characters are done in broader strokes than we expect from our greatest movies. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx are better than adequate as Crockett and Tubbs, but we don’t ultimately feel like we ever know them as well as we know the lead characters in, for example, other Michael Mann films. Great character actors such as John Ortiz, John Hawkes, Barry Shabaka Henley, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Ciarán Hinds, Eddie Marsan, Isaach De Bankolé, and Tom Towles all get brief moments to shine (some briefer than others), but ultimately they are as hard to know as the lead pair are.
For me, that works (this time, at least), but I think most people would have been reassured to have been promised that we’d be revisiting these characters in future adventures. Since there weren’t any more episodes, and since people knew that ahead of time, most people were unsatisfied with the enigmatic, underexplored leads.
The other reason for MIAMI VICE’s relative lack of popularity, is that there is a very unusual and specific aesthetic at work here, an aesthetic that Mann pushed even further in 2009’s PUBLIC ENEMIES and lost a lot more audience members and critical defenders as a result of it. Miami Vice, honestly, is more like a Michael Mann remix of a Michael Mann movie — some MANHUNTER here, some HEAT there, a tiny sprinkle of THE INSIDER, plenty of COLLATERAL, some younger stars and hotter chicks and hotter guns and vehicles and new sounds mixed in — but again, Michael Mann is my favorite director, so I can do better than live with it. I absolutely love the look, the sound, and the vibe of MIAMI VICE, but I understand that it’s an uncommon look, sound, and vibe. For me, there are few movies I’d rather watch, because for some reason I key into its specific rhythms and can sway with ‘em.
And I don’t need much in-depth character work to intuitively understand what Crockett and Tubbs see in their respective ladies – the female leads here are just more interesting to me than you usually see in a modern crime movie. Gong Li, despite struggling with the subject of mojitos, is an exotic, forbidding, ultimately human love interest, and Naomie Harris, who made such a strong first impression on film in 28 DAYS LATER, is a tough, lovely equal partner to the guys in the film, although her Bronx accent is admittedly unfortunate. The fact that I warm to these ladies, and that the two main guys are comparatively blank slates, leads me to relate to that ending a lot more strongly than I might have if the movie played any other way. Since it’s painted in broader strokes, character-wise, it’s easier to bring myself to the movie, if that makes sense.
That final sequence, perfectly matched to Mogwai’s song “Auto Rock,” is like the greatest music video ever to totally encapsulate my inner romantic world. I feel like a lot of people who love this movie understand what I mean. And if you don’t get it, you’re one of the lucky ones. The last dialogue we hear in the film resonates with the sentiments “Time is luck” (a frequent motif in Mann’s work) and “This was too good to last,” and these are sentiments I understand and have felt before. I know what it’s like to walk away from someone good, for solid reasons, for the wrong reasons, and for no good reason at all – it’s a frequent motif of my own personal story.
This movie, in its final moments, captures that feeling as well as anything I’ve personally seen, heard, or read in all my experiences with popular culture. It’s a feeling that still hasn’t entirely left me, here now in 2011. Therefore, neither has this movie. And I don’t care who knows or judges it.
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