2006, what is it remembered for? To name a few things: A killer heat wave, launching the career of one Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana, a rebooted 007, and a disappointing Last Stand for the X-Men. In summer 2006, an anticipated adaptation arrived in the form of Miami Vice, taken directly from the 80’s television show. The immediate reception was not kind, but with time, the tide has somewhat shifted. Nearly 15 years later, it is time to head back to the Port of Miami.
THE STORY: Detective partners Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) are the central figures of Miami Vice, getting each job done with a combination of precision (Ricardo) and freewheeling (Sonny) with adequate help from team members Trudy (Naomie Harris), Larry (Justin Theroux), and Gina (Elizabeth Rodriguez). Tacking a prostitution ring in a popular club, their focus shifts immediately when an old informant tips them off about a drug deal about to go awfully bad. Many people’s covers including FBI agents, get blown, and many people die at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Thankfully, the informant in question never revealed Sonny and Ricardo, who are now identified and sworn in as temporary FBI agents to investigate the flow of drugs into Miami by infiltrating the operations, led by Jesus Montaya (Luis Tosar), his partner, Isabella (Gong Li), and the head of counterintelligence, José Yero (John Ortiz). As any detective knows, blending in undercover well means losing direction on where the line starts and ends. Crockett and Tubbs are going to see their separate lives and case priorities merge in inextricable ways.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Some of the discourse around Christopher Nolan’s Tenet became summarized by one key line a character states early on as we get into its time-bending world. “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.” The preceding line became a point for detractors and proponents of the movie. “What good is a movie if it makes little sense?” vs. “If the world is so engrossing, not everything needs to make logical and narrative sense.” Like most things in life, I believe the truth lies in the middle more times than not, but sometimes, a fully realized setting buoyed by impressive direction can make a movie. Case in point: 2006’s Miami Vice, certainly not the strongest or cleanest narrative but one that supports the other aspects firmly enough.
Director Michael Mann had come off Collateral, continuing his great track record in creating crime dramas. He was also one of the forerunners of shooting on digital, something that begun with Collateral. The actual 80’s show—executive produced by Mann—set many trends in the form of style (colored pastels) and music to name a few. One would think that he would be quite content with merely updating what he oversaw into a new century in better clarity. Not Mann.
Miami Vice 2006 has style too, and lots of it. However, while being sleek and stylized, this is a muted, serious, and ominous style from the get-go when the director drops his audience right into the proceedings as Crockett and Tubbs are snuffing out a prostitution ring with Jay-Z/Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore” booming throughout. There’s no handholding or character ramp-up period, but the club opener (only featured in the theatrical version) serves as a nice snippet of who Crockett and Tubbs are and how they differ—and one doesn’t get the feeling they’re the tightest of buddies; they simply are great partners. That then leads to the events that propel the film into its main story, punctuated by a cinematically splendid rooftop scene deputizing the Vice leads while a dark storm hovers in the background. In just these 10-15 minutes of runtime, Mann and his cinematographer Dion Beebe create a gripping, intoxicating world that only grows as the plot makes stops in Cuba and Haiti.
The behind-the-scenes happenings that surrounded Miami Vice are legendary. Mann actively filmed in places that were unsafe with weather conditions (days lost to Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma, and Rita) and infested with gang activity. He demanded his leads to embrace their undercover characters legitimately, taking them on sting operations both real and fabricated. Foxx behaved like a diva upon winning the Best Actor Oscar for Ray, demanding top billing as well as a private jet. He was even the impetus in Mann rewriting the ending, choosing to go home and stating he wouldn’t return to the set after real gunshots went down unless the filming location returned to the U.S. For Farrell, this film is the one that convinced him to enter drug rehab for the first time. The tensions were high and the stress unbearable. Nevertheless, though it’s a good “what if?” thought to imagine how much better Miami Vice would be if matters were smoother on set, it sort of makes the film more endearing knowing that Mann and co. were able to create a final product that is not only mostly cohesive, but superb in areas.
A GREAT MOMENT: Could go with so many. The already stated opening club scene, the mesmerizing speedboat flirtation featuring Crockett and Isabella making their way into Havana for the best mojitos, the hostage rescue that ends with a well-timed bullet placed in the head of a baddie mere split seconds after explaining exactly how it would happen in detail, the climatic shootout, and the semi-philosophical ending with Mogwai’s “Auto Rock” playing in the background. But I’ll go a different route and choose the scene where the guys meet Yero for the first time.
In it, Crockett and Tubbs descend into the lion’s den in Haiti, a spot where everyone is strapped to the teeth in firearms. The two meet a seated Yero in a basement, flanked by bodyguards. They get right down to business, discussing when and what needs to be moved. Yero demands specific information on just who these guys are, and why he should trust them with millions on the line. Crockett and Tubbs hold the line, being stiff with their potential partner, stating that “Business auditions for us” and they have nothing to prove or reveal. Voices get raised, and Yero’s guards surround Crockett, who has just pulled a grenade out of his pocket with thumb preventing explosion. Power play that shows he and Tubbs mean business.
They flip the script on Yero, suggesting he may be working with the feds, and if he doesn’t comply in this business deal, they’ll splatter him all over the wall. A command from Isabella gets the guards to back off. The trio talk more logistics, where Yero reveals he is not “The Man,” but the point person for counterintelligence for the entire operation and he determines if the two meet Jesus. Yero likes Tubbs, but doesn’t like Crockett, and ends their meeting by shunning the team out and telling them to wait for a call at their hotel which may or may not come.
This scene is the audience’s first exposure to Yero, played with cool, methodical menace by Ortiz, an underrated actor with a long history of playing bad men. The dialogue interplay between all three gives the scene a propulsive energy, even as it’s filmed in close quarters with the three men sitting. It is the only time in the movie where we get what feels like a good cop/bad cop vibe from Tubbs and Crockett, showing their ability to think on their feet and be unintimidated by the moment. Lastly, Mann does a clever bit in foreshadowing what is to come in the final act, along with setting up the romance between Isabella and Crockett with a brief gaze from the former. A smaller scene compared to those ones referred to earlier, but no less dynamic.
THE TALLY: Vastly different than the source its based on, it is fair to wonder if much of the initial hate for Miami Vice wouldn’t be as pronounced if it went under a different title. Whether named Miami Vice or some other two-person “buddy” cop titled variant, the film is an underrated one that has gained recognition as so. Ride the ocean wave, it’s What to Watch (currently on Peacock as of this writing).
Photo credits go to impawards.com, decider.com, IMDB.com, screenhub.blog, and directexpose.com.
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