Mann’s slick, underappreciated cool fever dream about undercover agents infiltrating a drug trafficking ring is more intelligent and impressionistic a work than any Hollywood studio would dare to admit.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Jamie Foxx, Gong Li, Naomie Harris
Plot: Our favourite undercover detectives from the 80’s are back in this update of the TV series. This time around, drug lords and a murder case in South Florida dangerously weave into the personal lives of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
If you watch Miami Vice like any other Hollywood action movie, most likely you will find it to be a weirdly-paced, long-drawn, perhaps nonsensical affair with few if moderately exciting bursts of action. But this is a Michael Mann film, and he’s far too smart a filmmaker to want to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx play two buddy undercover agents out to bust a drug trafficking ring. There’s also Gong Li, who plays a seemingly shady character embedded deeply within the syndicate. That’s all you need to know as the plot gives way to a cool fever dream.
Under the hands of Mann, Miami Vice works less as an infiltration procedural or a pure action-thriller; instead, Mann is interested in expressing moods.
“Let’s take it to the limit one more time.”
There’s an organic quality to the fluid digital cinematography, which is masterful and quite different from, say, David Fincher’s more deliberate and precise style, so much so that some critics have claimed that what Mann is to digital filmmaking is what Murnau was to silent film.
While that might appear hyperbolic, the point has been made—that Mann is one of very few filmmakers who transited fluently to digital cinema.
Amidst the dialogue, plotting and character vibing, we see thundery skies, polished nightscapes, speedboats throttling away poetically in the open sea, and more of these impressionistic scenes that play out longer than mere functional transitions.
While Miami Vice is a realistic and violent film—its climactic action shootout sees Mann at his skilful best—and marketed as an R-rated Hollywood actioner with glitzy stars, it is nowhere as shallow as some critics have purported it to be. It’s not about the surfaces, but what they reflect deep within.