Now I stumble across an action film that so utterly confounds narrative that I wonder if it might actually be a surrealist or experimental film, and I have to concede that it really doesn't end up appealing to me after all.
If I can confess my bias: I've never cared for Michael Mann. The three (now four) of his films that I've seen have all struck me the same way: uncannily great style mashed on top of a typical genre script not to make the script interesting, but to make sure that we ignored the plot in favor of the "oooooh" cinematgraphy and "aaaaah" editing. I've said it before and I imagine that I'll say it again: technical achievement can't exist in a vacuum. The editing, camerawork, art design et al should work in tandem with a script - not subordinate to it, nor replacing it.
Miami Vice, his latest, confounds that. Because there is one exception to the "vacuum" rule, and that's nonnarrative film. I am not entirely certain, but I think the plot and actors of this picture merely serve as the pretext for what is perhaps best appreciated as a series of videography experiments.
Mann's last film, Collateral, was shot on digital video. And no mistake, it was shot very well - taking place entirely at night, it took advantage of video's unique capabilities in low-light situation compared to film, to create a grainy and gritty urban hell that I've never quite seen anywhere else. Miami Vice takes that to an extreme, where nearly every shot (certainly every scene) seems to be specifically designed to explore the ways in which video can shoot every imaginable type of lighting, fog, water, explosion. In the past I've expressed dissatisfation with Dion Beebe (largely after he beat three deeply overdue cinematographers for the 2005 Oscar), but I'd be a fool to deny that this is a supreme achievement, requring an unimaginable level of expertise and comfort with his camera.*
And if Michael Mann wanted to trick American audiences into watching an experimental film, I can't find it in my heart to condemn him. But the alternative is to presume that he meant for this to be a cohesive and appealing story, and he's much too smart for that.
I can't even quite describe it: Detectives "Sonny" Crockett (Colin Farrell) and "Rico" Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) of the Miami Police Department Vice Squad are brought in to track the drug trafficking operation of kingpin Jesús Montoya (Luis Tosar) and his aides José Yero (John Ortiz) and Isabella, played by Gong Li, a character for whom I cannot think of any meaningful description other than "the Gong Li character." Many things happen that endanger the lives of the detectives' team.
It's not incoherent. By and large, I understand what happened and in what order and why. But none of it hangs together. It was more like watching a dream, where events and characters are related to each other, but it's extremely difficult to link the past with the present. I found myself forgetting - constantly - what was going on in the scenes leading up to whichever given scene was happening. Partially, I wonder if this is because the film has no first act - indeed, it begins so abruptly, without credits, that I wondered if I was watching a damaged print (I've determined that this is not the case) - and so we're still trying to fit together who everyone is far too late in the game; but I think there's more to it than that. Without the script in front of me I can't nail it down, but during the film I kept thinking that there was a Brechtian element to how uncomfortably the script kept giving way.
It's nothing like the series, that's for damn sure. Mann executive-produced Miami Vice for all of its five years on television, which at least answers for me the question of why he'd care to do a big screen version, but despite that fact this is an entirely different animal. I'll confess that I have only watched the series (and a very small number of episodes, at that) as high '80s camp; the
I simply don't know what to make of this. It almost feels like the movie didn't happen, and yet I can call to mind nearly every one of its 135 minutes with crystal clarity. It has the most proficient cinematography of the year, and for that reason alone I suppose I can recommend it to the cinematographers in my readership; and it is probably the most-interestingly edited film I've seen recently, although how the editing "works" is difficult for me to say. But as a cop film, it is practically unwatchable. I don't feel at all comfortable giving it a number out of ten (sorry Pat), but I can say that I'm not particularly glad that I saw it and I don't want to suggest that anyone else does so for any reason other than academic interest.