"Miami Vice" is a strange beast. It is another hard, gritty work from Michael Mann, acclaimed director of "The Insider," "Heat" and "Collateral. Thematically "Miami Vice" is a shallow film with an undercooked plot and caricatures for characters; it has Colin Farrell acting, inexplicably, for most of the time, with his eyes wide open, busting balls and breaking hearts while pop music from Linkin Park/Jay-Z threatens to numb our senses. "Miami Vice" is an idea. More precisely, it is Mann's idea of a place (fans of Mann take note because this goes against some precepts of his better films) where the rules are clearcut – the good guys here are simple to understand, they are macho and good-looking and brave while the bad guys are rich, slightly obese and absolutely evil. In this place when drug peddlers and pimps get busted they don't just get handcuffs; they receive a bullet right between the eyes. It is a silly silly film about archetypes of power, obsession and greed. "Miami Vice" seems to have a disdain for conventional storytelling and Mann spends considerable time in building layers of textural padding; he immerses us into a symphony of breathtaking visuals, acid chill music and ear-piercing live ammo. "Miami Vice" is Mann's idea of pure sensory immersion, a go-for-broke gamble in style over substance. And you know what? Like most forbidden pleasures in life it's a sensational mood piece.
José Yero: "Who the fuck knows you?"
Det. James 'Sonny' Crockett: "Well my mommy and daddy know me."
Det. Ricardo Tubbs: (Crockett is holding a live hand grenade) "People are gonna come in here and say "nice wallpaper. What is it: Jackson Pollack?" No, it's Jose Yero; he got splattered all over his walls…
The above exchange takes place between Colin Farrell's Crockett, Jamie Foxx's Tubbs and John Ortiz's Jose Yero who is a go-in-between, the villain's mediator; Ortiz is, perhaps, the best thing in the film after Mann's sexy nighttime shots of Miami, the auteur's infamous need for authenticity and his perfectionism (several crew members criticised Mann's decisions during production, which featured among other things, filming in unsafe weather conditions, and choosing locations that "even the police avoid, drafting gang members to work as security." This led to real shooting on set.) Crockett and Tubbs are both undercover agents on a mission to dismantle an arms and drugs trafficking business in South Florida. It's a dangerous job and Mann reminds us by having a close friend of theirs killed by a speeding truck. It is actually a suicide by their desperate, disillusioned pal because his family was tortured and murdered by our main villain, mysterious Columbian boss Arcángel de Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar). As Crockett and Tubbs sink deeper into a world of speedboats and smoky Havana nightclubs, the lines between professional duty and personal obsession begin to blur for at least one of them. Crockett falls for Montoya's Chinese-Cuban wife Isabella played by revered actress Gong Li who, let's just say, does her best when she's not speaking.
The story is a shell, an outline, probably just an excuse for writer-director Michael Mann to make a flawless police procedural that puts technical brilliance above nuance and plot complexity. Mann has been known to push the production envelope and "Miami Vice" is a stunning film to experience. There is imagery in the film that continues to haunt and stimulate my imagination. I will explain one such shot: When Montoya is told of his lover Isabella's infidelity with Crockett the camera is behind Montoya; it slowly creeps into the back of his head and stays there for a moment. It's an astonishing shot (reminiscent of master visualist Andrei Tarkovsky's "Stalker"), one of many others that may just compel us to forgive the film its one-dimensional story.
Break it down and "Miami Vice" is a meticulously constructed heightened reality of cops and robbers, it's about that gray line where these men's invincibility intersects with their vulnerable humanity. Above all, it's a film about machismo. And the rules are clear: Everyone is in it for power, glory and pussy. The bad guys cannot win. The good guys will win. Our heroes are relentless and beautiful and they will keep fighting the good fight. It's a preposterous film about little perverse joys. This makes "Miami Vice" irresistible. - Adnan Khan