What do you mean there’s no pet alligator?
This month marks the ten year anniversary of Michael Mann’s big screen adaptation of Miami Vice. The film, starring Colin Farrell as Sonny Crockett and Jamie Foxx as Ricardo Tubbs, was met with a mostly muted response upon release from critics and audiences. Over the years however, the film has developed a bit of a cult following, so I figured it was time I gave it another shot.
Upon my first viewing of Miami Vice back in 2006, I was a bit surprised by how subdued the film was. Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect the pink shirts and white suit jackets that Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas made famous, but I thought the film would be a little more fun than it was. It was a rather dark affair and although that is nothing new from Michael Mann, it was kind of unexpected of Miami Vice. Although I mostly liked the film, it seemed to lack the fun of the show and seemed devoid of surprises. So how does it play now?
I am pleased to report that my second viewing of Miami Vice was a much more pleasant experience, and I can definitely see why so many people really like it. Taking it out of the show context, the film is actually a really good crime movie that in certain ways rivals Mann’s magnum opus Heat. It doesn’t quite reach those heights overall, but to its benefit, it’s not really trying to. Miami Vice is a different animal, and Michael Mann isn’t interested in making Heat 2.
Miami Vice has a pretty standard action movie set-up; vice cops go undercover to work for the feds to bust a drug lord. What sets the film apart is the direction and performances, particularly Foxx, Farrell, and Gong Li (Isabella). The film doesn’t really waste any time in going into superfluous character backstory, and in that way the movie almost resembles a film noir at times. Mann definitely uses the less is more adage to his advantage in this one. The exceptions to this are in Crockett’s affair with gangland financial advisor Isabella, and Tubbs relationship with his fellow cop/girlfriend Trudy (Naomie Harris).
No matter how good everything else is, this film belongs to Colin Farrell. I wasn’t too keen on Farrell when I watched this movie the first time, but after his performances in Fright Night, Horrible Bosses, and True Detective, I have become a fan; Miami Vice just goes further to solidify this. It’s always hard for an actor to make a character their own after someone else has put a mark on it, and it is to Farrell’s credit that he did a totally different take on Sonny Crockett than Don Johnson did. Johnson’s Crockett was damaged but fun; Farrell’s is straight and to the point.
Michael Mann has always been hit and miss with me; I love Heat but Ali bores me; Collateral is good but The Insider is kind of boring. I am happy to say that Miami Vice falls firmly in the hit category. Mann had a clear vision and made it work even if certain things about it, such as shooting the film using digital cameras, was lampooned in 2006. Time has definitely been on this movie’s side.
I do want to make the point that I watched the director’s cut of the film this time around. My first viewing was of the theatrical cut, and it did make a difference. The theatrical version seems like it starts in the middle of a scene, whereas the director’s cut has a much more natural opening. The director’s cut also expands on certain dialogue scenes and ties things together a bit better. If you have the option of it, definitely go with the dc.
At the end of the day, not everyone that likes the original show is going to like the movie version of Miami Vice. It definitely has a much different feel, but as a fan of the show, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that the film holds up incredibly well on its tenth anniversary. So take your pet alligator for a walk, throw on your white suit jacket, and settle down in front of the TV in your houseboat; you’ve got a kick-ass movie to watch.
Until next time…