Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Miami Vice

For the Mann obsessives out there, I've got a short report on Miami Vice which contains some mildly spoilerish stuff. Read at your own risk.


I'm still not sure what I make of Miami Vice. I can never fully digest Mann movies in one sitting. But it's 18 hours later and I'm still thinking intensely about it; that's the first time a movie has stuck in my brain in a while.

My initial reaction is that it's good, not great. But then again, I felt the same way after seeing Heat, The Insider, and Collateral for the first time. The Viper camera he uses is pretty astounding. There are images, like one panorama of hills in Paraguay at sunset with a single thunderhead looming in the distance, that I will never forget. This is a beautiful movie.

And Mann has managed to make a cops-and-robbers flick where the ideal, the goal that motivates the protagonist, is middle-class marriage. That's no small trick. And my God, you'd think that he's the only guy in Hollywood who's ever heard a real gun fired. The sound work on the gun fights is shocking--you hear the different reports and registers and none of them sounds like typical movie gunfire. It makes a big difference.

Also, while the movie has moments of shocking violence, Mann demonstrates tremendous restraint. There's a scene where a character has been brutally tortured and murdered. But Mann doesn't show that to us--or even tell us about it with dialogue. Instead, we get a very tight shot of an enormous, scary looking man as he's rooting through a refrigerator. We see the back of his bulging, bald cranium, his enormous arms, and a sea of tattoos. As the camera pulls back a few inches, we see that he's wearing big blue rubber gloves that go up to his elbows. Then we notice the blood on them. And as the camera pivots, we see, in the background, someone's foot and ankle on the floor, peeking out from around the corner of a doorway. Anyway, without showing any gore or violence, Mann convinces us that something unspeakably terrible has just happened and sends shivers down our spines.

I thought directors had forgotten how to do that.

The knock on Mann is that he's all surface. A glorious surface, to be sure, but that there's nothing more than cold, shiny sleekness to his work.

For me, that criticism doesn't hold. Mann is not a director of ideas, although there is one big idea behind Miami Vice. As a director, his strength is his ability to combine narrative and atmosphere; he's a combination of the best qualities of Spielberg and Kubrick.

Mann likes to skip beginnings and jump into stories from the middle--he does this in almost all of his movies, forcing the audience to play catch up. But he then drives relentlessly to the ending. And he shows you fully inhabited worlds that are more spectacular than anything you'd get from ILM. Even judged on pure visual appeal, I take Mann's Los Angeles or Miami over Naboo any day of the week.

Miami Vice fits nicely into the Mann canon.


Anonymous said...

I have felt that way about Mann's work since Manhunter. Nice review.

-Jason O.

Kathleen Nelson said...

Yes, but does he show endless footage of the tires on Crockett's car spinning round and round whilst Phil Collins' "In the Air" plays in the background?

Because if he does, well, I'm so there.

Anonymous said...

My reaction is the same as yours: very good, but not great. I think the one thing that kept it from greatness was simply the lack of chemistry between Gong Li and Colin Farrel. So much of the movie hinges on us believing that there are true feelings between them, and it just didn't come through. I blame it on Li, who I think was poorly cast. Other than that, I'm with you on the cinematography, and definitely the sound of gunfire.