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(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Miami Vice
Where You Can Stream It: Peacock
The Pitch: Michael Mann takes Miami Vice, the slick ’80s crime show he executive produced and reworks it into a moody, violent, really damn great film that blends action, romance, betrayal, friendship, and, of course, mojitos.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Today marks the 15th anniversary of Miami Vice, one of Michael Mann’s best movies despite what some naysayers might naysay with their naysaying mouths. There was a lot of eyebrow-raising when Miami Vice arrived in 2006, because it was taking a TV show full of pastel blazers and pink sunsets and turning it into a gritty crime drama. But what’s so wrong with that?
The work of Michael Mann is an acquired taste. You’re either on board with his moody, male-centric stories or you want nothing to do with them. If you’re in the latter category, that’s fine. But me? I can’t get enough. Give me a blue-tinted Mann movie where the main character silently looks out over a body of water and I’m in heaven. Mann has been working for years, but it was Heat, his 1995 crime epic starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, that really turned him into a household name.
But Heat was both a blessing and a curse, because for a while there, it seemed like every movie Mann made after Heat immediately was held up against the 1995 movie. “This is fine,” folks would say when a new Mann movie arrived. “But it’s no Heat!” And sure, Heat is arguably Mann’s masterpiece (although some days I think I like The Insider more), but that doesn’t mean we must write off everything he did after it.
Miami Vice the TV series ran from 1984 to 1990, and it was a big hit. Mann served as an executive producer on the series, and at some point, he got it in his mind to adapt it to the big screen. But Miami Vice isn’t really the show. Sure, it has the same characters, but it’s a much different beast. Once again, Mann is telling a sprawling story. He’s not content with one throughline – he wants to cram as much as he possibly can into the narrative. If Mann tried to make this Miami Vice today it probably would end up being an HBO limited series.
In Miami Vice, James “Sonny” Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) go undercover to infiltrate a drug cartel. This set-up is as basic as you can get for a crime movie, but it’s what Mann does with this material that makes Miami Vice sing. Farrell ends up falling for Isabella (Gong Li), the right-hand woman of the drug lord the cops are trying to bring down. Meanwhile, Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris) another one of the cops on their team, and Tubbs’ girlfriend, gets kidnapped by white supremacists, putting the entire mission – and everyone’s lives – in danger.
To be fair, Mann does shortchange Foxx’s character here. He doesn’t get nearly as much screen time or backstory as Farrell, and the storyline Mann seems most interested in here is the romance between Crockett and Isabella. I’ve seen people say Farrell and Li have no chemistry here, but I respectfully disagree. The two both carry a certain tragic aloofness about them, creating characters who know that falling in love is a bad potentially deadly idea – and then they do it anyway.
Mann’s digital cinematography doesn’t hold up so well these days – there are night shots where the sky is a pixelated mess. But this also often lends the film an almost documentary vibe, especially during action scenes where characters are running through gunfire. It’s harsh, and real, and brutal. At the same time, Mann perfectly captures the vibe of the various locations the characters inhabit; we can practically feel the heat during the day and the cooling down of the night. We fully inhabit this world right alongside the players. And while Foxx’s character doesn’t have as much to do, Mann, Foxx, and Farrell still take the time to establish the relationship between the two partners. “I will never doubt you,” Tubbs sternly tells Crockett at one point, and we believe it.
Eventually, Mann ties all of his various threads together for a big, violent ending that’s both satisfying and even a little melancholy. He could’ve had Crockett and Isabella end up together – but that’s not the world Mann’s characters inhabit. Instead, the romance is not to be, and after all is said and done, and the smoke has cleared, and the blood has splashed, Crockett and Tubbs will go right back to work on the next case, and the next one, and the next, until time runs out. As Crockett says: “Things go wrong. The odds catch up. Probability is like gravity: you cannot negotiate with gravity.”
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