Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Colin Farrell……….Det. James ‘Sonny’ Crockett
Jamie Foxx……….Det. Ricardo Tubbs
Luis Tosar……….ArcÃƒÂ¡ngel de JesÃƒÂºs Montoya
Naomie Harris……….Trudy Joplin
John Ortiz……….Jose Yero
Walking into Miami Vice, one comparison stands out when comparing it with the rest of Michael Mann’s directorial resume. It seems very apt noting that Mann is the cinematic equivalent of famed NBA head coach Phil Jackson. Jackson has never been known for taking a team of mediocre players and turning them into a great team; he’s always surrounded himself with two superstar players and then building a team around them. Having two Hall of Fame players in Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for nearly a decade in Chicago as well as having had Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant with Los Angeles, he brought six NBA titles to the Bulls and three to the Lakers.
Jackson’s not interested in creating a championship-caliber team from scratch; give him the pieces and he’ll figure out the quickest way to a championship puzzle. Mann doesn’t want to craft a bunch of new or inexperienced actors into a great cast; he’s good enough as a writer/director that veterans can step in and give tremendous performances. Part of his ability as a director is to take great talent and mold a great cast out of them; he isn’t a Roman Polanski or a Steven Spielberg who coaxes great performances out of seemingly anyone. Mann takes great actors and let’s them make a memorable character out of what he’s crafted. Part of what makes his latest opus, Miami Vice, into yet another top notch film is that Mann is able to tweak is formula for his two main stars.
Miami Vice is an updated version of the 80s small screen spectacle that Mann produced revolving around two Miami detectives: Sonny Crocket (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx). Tubbs and Crocket are vice cops in Miami trying to infiltrate a cocaine ring, getting deep enough in to see the business from the ground up. Straddling the line between cop and criminal, Vice is a companion piece to his two other major films revolving around cops and crooks: Collateral and HEAT. They all focus on the same concept: the similarities and obsessions in terms of their very nature between law enforcement officials and the criminal establishment. It’s all in the relations between them in Mann’s films, and in Miami Vice Mann explores another facet of this as the film’s focus is on the fine line between good and evil.
And while Farrell and Foxx aren’t as skilled or as established as some of Mann’s prior stars, they work well together on the screen and show a tremendous chemistry. They’ve been partners long enough that glances and simple answers communicate much more than Shakespearean dialogues. Mann’s intensity is more than enough to counter any sort of acting guffaws on their behalf. Mann wisely plays to both of their strengths and allows their physical presence to do more than dialogue would; this is character development by omission. We learn more by what he leaves out than what he puts in to these two; Mann’s writing isn’t up to par to his previous efforts but his directing is much more focused because of it. It forces him to give a much stronger directorial effort than usual, as he crafts his story and uses more action sequences than he has in the past.
Ditching the 80s wardrobe and Phil Collins-fueled soundtrack, Mann isn’t just adapting the television show. He’s taking characters he developed and crafted 20 years ago and starting the story anew with new actors in the lead. The key to the film rests on two things: intensity and a lack of development. Mann’s films always have a certain level of tension and intense reactions in them, as they are his trademark, but in this latest film the levels of both are much higher than normal. Crocket and Tubbs are hot on the trail of Jose Yero (John Ortiz) and ArcÃƒÂ¡ngel de JesÃƒÂºs Montoya (Luis Tosar); Montoya is shipping drugs and weapons out of South America and into the U.S. Yero is the middleman between the cops and Montoya, a merciless pit bull of an assistant. Deputized by the FBI, Crocket and Tubbs infiltrate the system by running shipments of drugs for them into Miami. As they delve deeper into the foray, and Crockett goes deeper into an illicit relationship with Montoya’s girlfriend (Gong Li), the two have to stay alive while trying to bring the criminals to justice.
What makes Miami Vice different is that there isn’t an exposition or an opening act to introduce the audience to the proceedings. We don’t know much about either of the two as the film starts, nor do we learn much about them as the film goes on, but this makes the movie work on a much deeper level. Crockett and Tubbs are undercover vice cops, used to crafting new identities and personas for the situation, and as such establishing identities and traits is something that would detract from the film’s focus. Both men are hardened tough guys, willing to maim and kill people if the situation calls for it, and their lack of a deep identity is in touch with the sort of characters they are. These are good cops, and underneath it good men, but they are also violent and brutal at the drop of a hat. They’re fascinating to watch, as they’re doing the right thing but perhaps not in the “right” way.
And Mann goes to the film’s best feature, his action sequences, as a mean’s of keeping the film’s intensity up to an insanely high degree. These aren’t clichÃƒÂ©d Hollywood action scenes, with big explosions and slightly graphic wounds. It’s graphic and intense, definitely not for the weak of heart, but Mann matches the film’s dramatic intensity with its action intensity. These are violent people in a violent world; Mann doesn’t sugarcoat any of it.
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