Michael Mann twisted Miami Vice into something thrillingly new

Michael Mann twisted Miami Vice into something thrillingly new

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The release of Star Trek Into Darkness has us fondly remembering other movies based on, or spun-off from, TV shows.

Miami Vice (2006)
I’ve seen Miami Vice more times than any other film made this century. Indifferently received during its 2006 release, the film has emerged as a major touchstone for my generation of critics. If you’re young and you’re writing seriously about the medium, there’s a good chance that you’re a Miami Vice fan.

Why? The movie—a continuation/reimagining of Anthony Yerkovich’s poppy, pastel-hued cop show—seems an unlikely candidate for the cinephile canon. Its plot occupies traditional cop-movie territory. Its soundtrack is compulsively un-cool: Nonpoint, Moby, Audioslave. It features gratuitous product placement. Its costuming consists almost entirely of ugly mid-2000s club looks, like shiny Ozwald Boateng suits and un-tucked extra-large button-up shirts.

And yet Miami Vice looks and moves like no other movie. It was shot in large part on grainy handheld digital video, which lends the action a sense of immediacy. Though its technology has become outdated, Miami Vice still feels new and different. The camera is squirrelly, quickly darting from close-up to close-up; the visual compositions are off-kilter, dominated by big swaths of negative space—looming skies, big empty rooms, water that stretches out past the horizon.

Then there’s the atmosphere. The movie opens and ends seemingly mid-scene; there is no set-up and no sense of resolution. The tone is doomy; writer-director Michael Mann—who executive-produced the TV series—refashions leads Tubbs and Crockett (Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell) into weary professionals. The world they inhabit is murky and fatalistic; everything matters only insofar as it continues the flow of information (for the police) or the flow of cash (for the criminals). It’s a movie about drug dealers that features no drugs and a movie about cops that features no arrests. Its characters exist within an endless cycle of informants and moles, takedowns and retributions, seizures and countermeasures.

Mann makes movies about archetypes—duty-bound criminals, driven investigators, flamboyant bank robbers, champion athletes—who long for independence. At its core, Miami Vice is a doomed romance about two people—Crockett and a cartel higher-up (Gong Li)—who see each other as escape routes. The film’s sense of dread is vast and oppressive; its fleeting moments of freedom—like a go-fast boat ride that rivals the ending of Mann’s own Heat as the all-time best use of Moby in a film—are vividly rendered. I’d be lying if I said that I’m not moved by it.

Availability: Both the theatrical and unrated cuts are available on DVD and Blu-ray, and for rent or purchase through the major digital providers. Note: While the unrated version lacks the in media res opening of the theatrical cut, its additional footage fleshes out some of the movie’s female characters.

More Watch This