Miami Vice (2006) Michael Mann

Production Budget: $135 million
Worldwide Gross: around $85 million
Subsequent Earnings: $36 million

This was a movie I really wanted to love.  Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral: all great movies.  Now he’s doing a movie of a show he originally wrote for.  It was one of my most anticipated movies of that year.  Unfortunately it turned out to be a big disappointment.  I know what he was trying to pull off here.  He was trying to make a hyper-realistic movie about two cops and would break many cliches about this genre.

We are introduced to our characters seemingly in a random point in their career as they are trying to effect a bust.  Then they are thrust into a situation involving an FBI mole and international drug running.  The ending (SPOILERS!!!) doesn’t really resolve much.  They win the battle but the war goes merrily on.  The movie even ends as abruptly as it begins as it simply cuts out with Crockett entering the hospital.  There is no forced backstory with the two leads as it would sound forced or cheesy.  They know each other, they know what each is capable of and they don’t need to doubt each other.  One of the things I admired about this movie was it didn’t treat the audience like idiots.  If you are paying attention and see the subtle signs then you will follow the story.  There is no boring exposition or long scenes where the main characters are essentially explaining the movie to us.  The movie is gorgeous to look at and while there is little action it is exciting.  Mann does a great job of setting everything up for a tremendous final battle.

Now for the bad.  While everything I said about Crockett and Tubbs may be true, there is still a serious lack of any kind of charisma between the two.  You think that two people that have worked together for so long would be more talkative but they barely say anything between them.  I think what Mann was going for was the kind of friendship Longbaugh and Parker had in The Way of the Gun.  But while Phillippe and Del Toro had charisma, the usually outgoing Jamie Foxx was incredibly dull.  It seems he was too concerned with looking cool than showing anything interesting with his character.  Another problem with the movie was there was very little tension.  There are two cops trying to infiltrate an international organization with limitless funding and spies in the department.  You would think the movie would be thrilling with the idea that at any moment they could be discovered, but you never seem to doubt the abilities of the protagonists or that they might die.  I seriously think at least one of them needed to die to satisfy the story.  The movie is good, but it left me wanting so much more.  The uncut version of the movie on DVD is better, but it doesn’t radically change or improve the movie like the Kingdom of Heaven DC did.

Re-review:  This is one of the few times I actually change my position on a movie since my initial review.  I think my problem was that of expectations.  From watching the trailers with the rapid cuts and the music and clips I figured I would be in for one big action scene.  What you get is a movie trying to be more grounded and take its time building tension.  With that outlook I got kind of bored my first time through.

The movie tries to be hyper-realistic from real life tactics of undercover agents from both state and federal agencies.  These tactics range from fabricated identities, doing jobs for the cartels, and even pitting two organizations against one another to make yourself seem more legit.  They got many different experts for inspiration and Mann is more than willing to tell you about it in the DVD commentary (which makes the commentary a little dull IMO).  But it goes to show how much they took the subject matter seriously and how they wanted to make the drama as organic as possible.  A funny story from the DVD extras is how they were sending the stars to train with undercover agents.  Colin Farrell actually got Punked by the agents where he came as an observer on a drug operation and things almost turned to shit.  Farrell when confronted by the “bad guy” and he flung open his shirt and stated he didn’t have a wire.  Later that night, Farrell was having trouble sleeping from stress so he called the agent and they told him it was all staged.

While there isn’t an action scene every ten minutes, the story does build naturally and puts everything in place.  When we get to the climax, it is a logical culmination and release of all this tension and it works better that way.  I mentioned before I liked how the movie didn’t assume we were idiots and I stand by it.  Crockett and Tubbs don’t say much in this movie (what many cite as why they didn’t do a good job acting) and there is a reason for it.  It wouldn’t be natural for them to have five minute exposition scenes explaining what just happened, why that happened, and what they need to do now.  They know the score and we as the audience should also know as well so there is no need to be redundant.  It also doesn’t do well to be heavily emoting because that would be the last thing you would want to do as an undercover agent.  You obviously don’t want to be clearly stressed out; you have to play it Bogart as they say.  At all times you have to be in control of the situation and when you are not in control at least appear in control.  It is off putting to many reviewers to see our leads so unaffected by the dangerous situations but really, can it be any other way?

The direction and especially the digital photography are beautiful.  This is one of those movies that Blu Ray and Hi Def televisions were made for.  It especially works well in low light situations and for Miami at night, it works extremely well.  The villains (especially the white supremacists) are menacing and the climactic shootout is still great in my opinion.

If I still have an issue with this movie, it is with Li Gong and the Isabella side plot as a whole.  Li Gong is a terrific actress…in her native tongue.  When she has to phonetically speak out her lines in halting sentence fragments it is downright groan inducing.  It is further head scratching that they hire an Asian actress for really a Latina role.  Yeah, I know, there are Asian immigrants that went to Cuba and Mann does his best to try to establish the fact her parents immigrated to Cuba.  But that seems like a whole lot of trouble explaining it and suffering through bad line reads when you could just hire a Latina actress.  I also find the romantic subplot brings the movie to a grinding halt.  We are supposed to believe that Crockett after one date with this woman is willing to give up his whole life and career just to be with her.  Uh huh, I call bullsh*t.  One the one hand the scenes are somewhat necessary to the plot, but on the other they do nothing new and it is frankly boring.

So yeah, despite my initial bad feelings about this movie, I have seen it several times since then.  There are still flaws with it (no doubt) and I can see some being put off by the slow pacing.  But I actually have changed my stance and I really like it now.  In terms of Mann’s work nothing tops Heat, but I might even rank this above Collateral now.


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