Miami Vice (2006)

Dark city landscapes of jutting towers, flashing lights and throbbing music of downtown clubs, sexy cars and sleek women. Miami Vice may be flashy, glamorous and beautiful but at its heart it it’s a primal and base film about the simplest elements of human existence.

In the middle of it all are the incorruptible detectives Sonny (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo (Jamie Foxx). Their attempt to bust a high class prostitution ring is interrupted when a key player in one of their previous cases calls in a heated distress. The two use their previous relationship to get inside an even bigger case with higher stakes, a high strung web of international drug shipment. But this is an entirely new league with an industry that runs counterintelligence. The boys will have to pull off a big act to just get in the door, let alone bust the deal.

Yet for all the promise of suspense and high strung action, this film is about romance. Don’t believe me? There are more lovemaking scenes in the film than shootouts. Likewise, we get more shots of female bodies in various states of undress than we get shots of bullet strewn bodies. It’s a simple case of false advertising. Perhaps in another context these elements would work, but when the entire film is structured around drugs, the action, or at least the drama, should be the center stage.

It also doesn’t help that these love stories are just as implausible, sentimental and sappy as any romantic comedy. It’s hard to take the film seriously when one minute the audience is watching an action scene that wants to be dark, dramatic and gritty and the next scene it is treated to some heavy melodrama.  In trying to heighten the stakes, and just about everything else, Mann has created a grotesquely humorous exaggeration of the gritty crime drama.

This is most clearly demonstrated in the action scenes. Mann still can’t figure out how to implement a simple handgun into his films. On the one hand, the action scenes are captured with the erratic, handheld camerawork that has become popular ever since those silly kids got lost in The Blair Witch Project. Yet on the other hand the way Man lights these scenes and tries to present certain perspectives makes the action less gritty and more like a sexy spy flick.

And it’s a shame because Mann has a great visual look to his pictures. Something as simple as a lowly lit night cityscape becomes breathless when captured in a Mann film. Likewise, any use of the color blue in the film is astounding. Seeing as the film is set in Miami, there are plenty of astounding shots of the water that are beautiful to look at.

In one such scene, Sonny and Ricardo are doing some planning and for a moment Sonny looks out the window. He’s treated to this infinite field of blue and for a moment his eyes glaze over and he just takes it in. Reality hits, he’s back in the conversation and the moment passes. Those tiny glimpses Mann gives us are infinitely better than any of the plotting, violence or romance in his films. He’s a director that is clearly better suited to more artistic and thoughtful pieces than the vice driven drama of this film.

What Mann needs is to get away from the crime genre. He’s got a good eye, but as long as he’s making inherently violent films, he’s never going to be a master craftsman. His sense of violence and drama are just far too exaggerated and ridiculous. There’s these poetic and thoughtful moments contained in all his films where he simply lets a moment breath. If he could make an entire film like that it would be astounding. Instead, he seems far more interested in such petty primal human impulses such as greed, sex and violence to truly make anything excellent.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing