(Michael Mann, 2006)
In many ways, Miami Vice is the ultimate Michael Mann film. Here he perfects the digital photography he experimented with in the earlier Ali and Collateral. Here he remakes some of his earlier work (the plot is based upon a couple of separate episodes of the Original series, but elements of it were also used in his Robbery Homicide Division series from a few years ago). Here he revisits some of his recurring themes - men defined by what they do, the impossibility of true human connection in the modern world, the relativity of good and evil in terms of law and order...Here he also returns to his favourite visual motifs, such as man pensive in a wash of blue by the ocean and the harsh beauty of the modern American city by night.
The film follows two Miami detectives as they head undercover into the twilight world of the international drug trade, posing as drug-runners in order to expose a mole within US Drug War intelligence. That brings them into the deadly orbit of a Colombian organisation and leads Crockett (Colin Farrell) into an affair with Isabella (Gong Li), a sort of financial advisor to Godfather Jesus Montoya (Luis Tosar, chilling in a few short scenes) while his partner Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) struggles to keep them focused and alive.
Mann has dealt with this world so often that now he is merely refining his ideas and sharpening his details. There is the sense in Miami Vice of an artist working almost in shorthand. Dialogue and exposition are minimal, spoken realistically and offhandedly. Cliched situations are elevated by the intensity of the writing, direction and playing - the undercover cop falling in love with one of his targets, a nocturnal shootout in a shipyard. The details are always telling and the soul of the film is in the tiniest moments. In a stylistic choice evoking Terrence Malick, Mann's camera occasionally drifts away from the obvious focus of a scene to dwell on something else entirely - Crockett gazing out a window at the ocean while his squad turn the screw on an underworld contact, or the feet of children racing past a car-wheel on the street outside a Havana Bar.
Mann is possibly the finest stylist working in modern cinema, and he puts sequences together better than just about anybody else. His camera moves elegantly and unostentatiously, and some of his compositions are extremely daring - he will often begin a scene with an abstraction rather than an establishing shot and loves to fill the foreground of a shot with the dark block of a shoulder. He is obsessed with surface - buildings, clothes, cars, weaponry - because he understands that in the modern world, surface often is substance, appearance is all, and that gives Miami Vice a tactile sense of the world too often missing from genre cinema. His action scenes are unparalleled, realistic, coherent and thrillingly visceral and his eye is just superb; there are countless moments of incredible visual beauty in this film, thrillingly captured by Dion Beebe's fluid digital photography.
Aside from the thematic and stylistic aspects, Miami Vice is his first film since The Last of the Mohicans to focus on a love story, and as such, its his most emotional film in some time. His decision to pull away from the procedural elements of his narrative and devote a large chunk of the film to the doomed romance between two characters is a bravura one, and it pays dividends at the climax, which has a hefty and adult sense of tragedy, loss and pain. The chemistry between Farrell and Li, both terrific, is crucial to that, and the rest of a strong cast - great players like Ciaran Hinds, Eddie Marsan and John Hawkes in even the smallest parts - gives it the feeling of an intimate glimpse at one small part of a wider, fully imagined world.
One of the great American films of the '00s.