Miami Vice

Director: Michael Mann

Visceral was the word most frequently used by critics in their reviews of Michael Mann’s big screen adaptation of his 80’s television smash Miami Vice.

Indeed there is quite a visceral knockout leveled by the director within the first few minutes of the film, which begins unceremoniously without fancy titles, instead launching us completely into a loud nightclub where we get lost in the scenery, picking up on the details as we go along. 

Using his trademark dark colored lighting and hand-held camera (often operated by Mann himself) that he perfected with the moody Heat and grainy docudrama styled Collateral, we’re sucked into the plot of Vice which finds Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx taking on the roles of Detectives Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs respectively, as they go deep undercover into the world of international drug trafficking after two federal agents are killed.

In traditional Mann style, the heroes and villains both contain equal parts of sympathy and danger and the luminous Gong Li is terribly miscast as the foreign drug boss who manages to steal Farrell’s heart, but although we never quite buy into their romance, Mann’s camera obviously loves Li and there’s a few seriously graphic sex scenes between her and Farrell that border on exploitation.

The plot of the film gets increasingly complicated by the minute, warranting a second viewing just to make sure you correlate all of the fast-talk with the hyper, cool cuts since we’re usually so dazzled by the artistry of Mann’s visuals (including his usual lush emphasis on water and authentic location-based scenery) that sometimes we struggle to keep up with the film’s breakneck pace.

Once I viewed Vice a second time, the plot became much clearer and I was even more in awe of not only the editing and camerawork but also the incredibly diverse musical selections included on the soundtrack.

While the same device of jeopardizing the female leads is used not once but three times in the film, bogging down the drama somewhat, Vice is another worthy entry into the director’s cops and robbers oeuvre and one that you realize belongs distinctively to the director within the instant the movie begins.

Loved by critics (and even listed on a few notable Top Ten lists of 2006), the film will definitely appeal to fans of Mann (although purists of the TV show may be dismayed), and Miami Vice works even better on DVD, with extra featurettes that help explain the level of preparedness and meticulous attention to detail apparent in every frame. 

Plus, Mann always personally edits his film releases on home video and DVD, cutting them again and again so that they’re always changing and it’s definitely a great resource for those interested in filmmaking to check out the evolving nature of his cinema.