|Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx star as Crockett and Tubbs in Michael Mann's Miami Vice.|
Two years after the creative and financial success of Collateral, Michael Mann’s next step was a movie remake of the famous 1980s TV series Miami Vice. This was hardly a typical Hollywood cash grab, however. The main characters are named Crockett and Tubbs, and they’re undercover cops with a boss named Castillo. That’s where many of the similarities end. The film version is much closer to the gritty world of Mann’s films than the glitzy fashions that people remember from the show. It’s also different because Mann was closely involved in the original series as an executive producer. He understands what made the show tick and retains certain elements that still work today. It’s the type of intriguing experiment that you rarely see from a big-budget production.
Despite having solid box-office success, audiences (and some critics) weren’t sure what to make of the 2006 movie. It’s dazzling and includes plenty of action, yet there’s a distance to the material that’s hard to crack. There’s little sense that the cops will make any real progress in stopping the drug trade. The violence is visceral yet feels more futile because the criminal enterprises are so large. The dangers of their efforts are extreme, and there’s a consistent melancholy to the project. No matter how successful Crockett and Tubbs are in stopping the dealers, there are always others to take their place. The cops are experts at selling the façade, but each move creates new and risky challenges.
|The Director's Cut of Miami Vice opens with a thrilling powerboat race.|
Full Speed Ahead!The Director’s Cut begins with an underwater shot that conveys an eerie stillness. After a few quiet moments, the camera lifts above the surface and reveals a powerboat race. This sequence is different than the theatrical version, which began in at a night club. This adjustment creates an image that reminds us of the iconic series. Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are hurtling forward towards their destiny, and it’s an apt metaphor for how they handle police work. Crockett in particular acts by instinct and moves before considering the consequences. This opening also gives us time to acclimate to this chaotic world; the fast pace won’t stop anytime soon.
The action moves quickly to a night club for the scene that opened the Theatrical Cut. The incredible cinematography from Dion Beebe (Collateral) stands out immediately during this frenetic sequence. The booming sound of “Numb/Encore” from Jay-Z (and unfortunately Linkin Park) blares through the club while the cops set up a sting. This scene deftly reveals aspects of the two leads’ personalities. Crockett smoothly hits on the bartender, while the serious Tubbs tries to save an abused girl. It feels like we’ve been dropped into the middle of the story, but Mann ensures we can follow the action. Crockett and Tubbs are revealed as pros working in dangerous territory, and that efficiency connects to team members Trudy (Naomi Harris), Zito (Justin Theroux), Switek (Domenick Lombardozzi), and Gina (Elizabeth Rodriguez). There’s nothing easy about this job; no one can slip up for a second.
This set-up reveals the cops’ investigative skills, and most films would waste time on resolving this operation. It means little to the real story beyond introducing the team, however. A frantic phone call from Alonzo (John Hawkes) begins the main plot and unleashes the torrent of new information. Mann doesn’t slow down the exposition and forces us to stay with him. These characters wouldn’t take a break to explain the details, so why should he?
Crockett understands the dire circumstances and immediately springs into action. Aryan drug traders brutally kill FBI undercover agents, and their actions signal a leak in Agent Fujima’s (Ciarin Hinds) operation. The contrast between the Miami cops and the by-the-books Fujima is immediately evident. Crockett and Tubbs are diving into the case, but they also care about a guy like Alonzo. The straight-arrow Fujima works in an office and views the crime world from afar.
|Crockett joins Isabella (Gong Li) for a quick holiday to Havana, Cuba.|
Playing a CharacterOne of Miami Vice’s best scenes is the first meeting of Crockett and Tubbs with Jose Yero (John Ortiz). It takes place in Haiti, which feels like enemy territory since the cops have no allies or support. Making statements like “business auditions for us”, the guys sell the idea that they’re hardened criminals. It’s a tense sequence because Yero has a suspicious nature. He doesn’t trust the American outsiders and tries various ways to expose them as liars. The scene is believable because of how little everyone really says. Crockett doesn’t overplay the conflict when it escalates and looks calm while holding a grenade. What’s interesting about this conversation is how they sell the lies. Tubbs’ intensity matches his approach to police work, while Crockett’s laid-back attitude remains. They’ve made only subtle changes and can sell the skills they already possess. Like Yero says later, “they’re too good at what they do.”
It’s also interesting to note the way that Yero is selling more than the truth. He’s posing as the head of the organization when he’s really the security guy. Yero clearly wants to control the operation, so it isn’t a stretch to convey that power. The real leader is Jesus Montoya (Luis Tozar), and the first meeting with him is less intense but strange. His comments are generic (“I extend my best wishes to your families”) and feel rehearsed, though subtle threats lurk beneath the surface. The revelation that Crockett’s girlfriend Trudy received $500 in flowers during their trip supports that warning. These guys don’t mess around. Even if they aren’t exposed as cops, Crockett and Tubbs are facing serious danger from this enterprise.
The idea of playing a role is intriguing in the context of Crockett’s burgeoning romance with Isabella (Gong Li), who handles the high-level business for Montoya. The attraction is real and goes beyond their drug world personas. Their date in Havana is an escape and breaks down most of the emotional barriers. When Isabella talks about her family, she’s revealing a softness that’s barely seen.
Crockett is playing a criminal, but his comments about his father are genuine. This relationship also subverts the typical male and female roles that we see in movies. Isabella is older and in control of how far it goes. It’s unfortunate when she becomes the more typical damsel in distress at the end, but that doesn’t signify the power during most of the romance. It’s also a different situation where Crockett gains little information through Isabella. Their love mostly rests apart from the crime, at least for a time.
|The digital photography of Dion Beebe shines during the nighttime scenes in Miami.|
All-Out WarMiami Vice succeeds by using a simple three-act structure: the opening sets the scene and sends Crockett and Tubbs undercover, the middle adds complexity and the love story, and the finale presents the conflict between the cops and Yero’s forces. Each step raises the stakes and creates more intrigue for what’s to come. There are memorable sequences from the start, so you aren't waiting for something to happen. When Yero kidnaps Trudy to enforce his will, it's a natural progression. We’ve already seen how the enemies killed Alonzo’s girl, so the threat is real. Mann excels in showing the frantic race against time to locate Trudy. Miami nighttime backdrop is gorgeous and addss a visceral thrill to the chase. Few directors are skilled enough to pull this off with experienced movie watchers. We’ve seen this type of scene play out hundreds of times, but it feels different. Trudy is found and apparently safe, yet a suspicion remains that something terrible is about to happen.
Immediately following Trudy’s rescue, the cross-cutting between Yero and the trailer signifies the explosion that’s coming. We know it’s going to happen, yet the shock remains when Trudy’s flattened to the ground. There were so many ways to screw up this moment, and Mann sidesteps the pitfalls. Foxx plays Tubbs’ quiet anger and concern just right as Trudy clings to life in the hospital. Despite the sharp execution, the plot does push Trudy into a familiar trope of the woman as a victim. She is a strong character who told Tubbs “you worry about you” when the flowers arrived. Even so, the need to raise the emotional stakes by putting her in jeopardy does follow a familiar pattern in movies.
There are few scenes from Mann’s career that reach the heights of the final shootout in Miami Vice. The Director’s Cut inserts Nonpoint’s cover of “In the Air Tonight” right before the battle, and it creates the right mood. The tense buildup while Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley) looks for the shooters is almost too much to bear. Once the bullets start flying, the pure chaos is stunning. The matter-of-fact way that Tubbs splatters Yero with a single shot signals how the game has changed. Questions of morality are gone; this conflict is personal.
The revelation to Isabella of Crockett’s real job further complicates the situation. The battle is over, but the emotional climax comes several minutes later. He’s accomplished little to stop the drug trade, yet Crockett does right by her. It was too good to last. Their achievements were limited and the struggle continues, but it’s hardly a failed endeavor. The action is the juice.
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