Saturday, July 29, 2006

New Film: Miami Vice

Michael Mann's Miami Vice is, if nothing else, certain to be the year's best looking American film. Transmogrifying his palette with the pastel and Caribbean hues of South Florida and its Latin American neighbors, Miami Vice follows the director's masterful Collateral (2004) as an articulation of the beauty of the urban landscape, dictated by the vibrant neon lighting -- particularly the electric blues -- that bathes the City. In terms of the aforesaid color schema, Mann registers Miami and its environs in a tapestry of mint greens, whites and pinks (which even combine in particularly aestheticized lens flares) that connote the tropical flavor of the region; the surrounding seascapes are even more startling, particularly, in one over-saturated sequence where Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Gong Li speed over the sea blue-green straight between Miami and Havana -- on a mojito run -- leaving a bright white wake behind.

Indeed, the appearance of these locations is not just background to Miami Vice but is central to the film's discourse -- as were the nocturnal, postmodern Los Angeles cityscapes of Collateral. And like that film, Mann manipulates the picture's narrative structure to call attention to this precise feature. Here, Mann structures the relatively looser plot (compared with the tight scripting of the previous feature) around movement between Miami, Havana, Haiti, Columbia and Brazil. In this way, Miami Vice effectively articulates Miami's unique position as an interface between the United States and Latin America, as well as the sense in which America is less a nation-state than a continent -- and therefore the degree to which the contemporary American experience necessitates the expression of numerous regional variations.

Moreover, Miami Vice shares a similarity to that most American of genres -- the Western -- with the directors' previous forrays into cop land, be it his neoclassical meta-western Heat (1995) or even Collateral and its echoes of the pre-determined structure of Budd Boetticher's Seven Men from Now (1956). In the case of Vice, the clearest predacessor may just be Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) and in particular that film's climactic shootout: as with that earlier picture, Mann's officers enact a flanking manuver around the sides of their opponents. Nonethless, Vice's stylistic élan shares as much with Wong Kar-wai (Gong Li's appearance almost feels like a reference in this respect) as it does with Hawks' Hollywood classicism -- though it should be noted that Mann similarly uses a very classical shot-reverse editing style in the cutting of his film. (Adding to this classicism, Mann utilizes pyschologically-incisive sound work, as for instance when the pair enter the South American kingpin's car and the music cuts out entirely, suggesting the gravity of the situation in this particularly stark artisitic choice.)

Collectively, it might be said that Mann puts style before substance, or to be more generous, that for Mann, the style is the substance. This is not to suggest that Mann's film lacks an ideological content. In fact, Mann expressly argues for an existentialism imbibed with the moral relativism that South Floridian life seems to ooze -- be it the visceral sex that seems aware of the film's axioms that "probability is like gravity" and "time is luck" (and in a very Wongian turn, that time seems to "run out" for two of the characters) or even in Mann's seductive aestheticization of violence. To be sure, this is a city where a vice squad is very necessary indeed.

1 comment:

The Whining Stranger said...

Nicely written review.

I kept asking myself throughout the film if Mann directs his actors to deliver their lines in the ham-handed way they do. Colin Farrell is particuarly over-the-top (as was Don Johnson back in the original series) but it somehow seemed appropriate to me. Mann's world is a world of artifice and performance, surfaces. He doesn't want you to get lost in naturalistic delivery, it seems, but rather pay attention to the completely unreal way that his Miami unfolds.