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Miami Vice For Real

January 11th, 2010 · 7 Comments

Miami Vice 2006 poster Miami Vice DVD

Miami Vice (2006)
Screenplay by Michael Mann, based on the TV series created by Anthony Yerkovich
Directed by Michael Mann
Produced by Michael Mann, Pieter Jan Brugge
Running time: 134 minutes (theatrical version)/ 140 minutes (Unrated Director’s Cut)

Should I Care?
Vice cops masquerading as drug smugglers and trafficking through that world in all its glamour and tragic inevitability as envisioned by Michael Mann — executive producer and style maestro of the groundbreaking 1984-89 TV series — is Miami Vice for you, nothing more, nothing less. Sorry for those expecting something else. Darker and less romantic than the version we last saw during the twilight of the Reagan years, but ten times more visually enthralling, the beauty of Miami Vice (2006) is how it expresses life in the fast lane of the South Florida underworld; not through an original story, compelling characters or an ability to make us really care about either, but by evoking mood. This is ultimately more a movie about fast boats, sports cars, designer sunglasses, sniper rifles and Santeria shrines than it is about people, but its detail is so serrated and spirit so intoxicating, it becomes a richer experience than most movies about people.

Shot almost completely in digital high definition, Miami Vice has such a deep focus feel — putting the viewer at a meet and greet in a Haitian slum or in a jaunt to Havana for mojitos — that you forgive it for not including a scene where Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx have a Heineken to talk about their characters’ feelings. The fact that Mann prefers moving images to talk — at least with dialogue worth retyping — only makes the movie stand apart from the plot heavy/brain dead cops ‘n robbers thriller du jour. It’s true that Naomie Harris, Justin Theroux, Dominick Lombardozzi, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Barry Shebaka Henley all warrant a lot more screen time than Mann gave them here, but John Ortiz, Luis Tosar and Gong Li are utilized particularly well as Crockett & Tubbs’ adversaries. A second or third viewing, where the story and characters can be pushed aside and the world Mann illuminates becomes the focus, is highly recommended.

Miami Vice 2006 Colin Farrell Jamie Foxx

So, What’s This About?
A prostitution sting staged by vice detectives — charming rogue James “Sonny” Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx), the cooler headed of the pair, until violence against a woman is introduced — is interrupted at a Miami nightclub when Crockett receives a frantic phone call from an informant named Alonzo (John Hawkes). Driving like a speed demon, Alonzo alerts Crockett that a case he’s working has gone very bad and asks the detective to look after his wife. Patched through to the FBI, Crockett is notified by special agent in charge Fujima (Ciaran Hinds) that the deep cover feds Alonzo is cooperating with are about to conduct a “meet and greet” without backup. He’s unable to pull his people before the Aryan Brotherhood types they’re meeting obliterate the feds with Barrett M82 sniper rifles. Alonzo and his wife quickly join them as collateral damage.

Meeting with Fujima and their superior, Lt. Castillo (Barry Shabaka Henley), Crockett & Tubbs learn that Alonzo was part of an interagency task force attempting to infiltrate the white supremacists, whose operations in South Florida put them on the receiving end of cocaine produced and smuggled out of Colombia. Unable to trust his people, Fujima turns to Crockett & Tubbs to find out how FBI security was breached. Assisted by fellow vice cops Zito (Justin Theroux), Switek (Dominick Lombardozzi), Gina Calabrese (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and an intel officer Tubbs is living with named Trudy Joplin (Naomie Harris), Crockett & Tubbs sabotage the transporters being contracted by the Aryans to run product into Miami. They then fabricate deep criminal backgrounds for themselves as transporters and pressure another snitch (Eddie Marsan) to get them a meeting with Jose Yero, the Colombian the feds suspect is supplying the Aryan Brotherhood with cocaine.

Miami Vice 2006 Luis Tosar Gong Li

Crockett & Tubbs fly to Haiti and learn that despite his vast resources, Yero (John Ortiz) is merely middle management, tasked with logistics and security for someone even higher up the food chain. Initially passing Yero’s scrutiny, the vice cops are taken to his boss Montoya (Luis Tosar), who after a brief introduction awards them a $3 million deal to transport 1,000 kilos of cocaine from Colombia to Miami. Montoya advises the pair “In this business with me, I do not buy a service. I buy a result. If you say you will do a thing, you must do exactly that thing. Then you will prosper beyond your dreams.” Montoya’s financial officer and lover Isabella (Gong Li) — a Chinese woman raised in Cuba — becomes their business contact. Though Isabella presents Crockett & Tubbs an opportunity to crack Montoya’s operation, Crockett jeopardizes it by getting romantically involved with her.

Who Made It?
Legend has it that Miami Vice was born on a notepad that NBC president of entertainment Brandon Tartikoff was scribbling program ideas on. One of his brainstorms supposedly read “MTV cops”. Tartikoff shared that concept with Anthony Yerkovich, a writer-producer on the network’s landmark police drama Hill Street Blues. Yerkovich maintains that he had already started compiling research on Miami and that vice cops operating in “a sort of Barbary Coast of free enterprise gone berserk” was his idea. Conceived as a feature film, Yerkovich was contracted by NBC to expand his idea into a two-hour television pilot he titled Gold Coast, later Miami Vice. Yerkovich supervised the pilot and five subsequent episodes, while Michael Mann — co-writer and director of an acclaimed TV movie (The Jericho Mile, 1979) and moody feature film (Thief, 1981) — was named the show’s executive producer and served as primary style authority.

Miami Vice 2006 Colin Farrell

Debuting in September 1984, Miami Vice introduced a vibe for music, fashion and design that had never been seen on network TV before. The novelty began to wear off after Season 2 and Michael Mann moved on to a career as one of the more visionary directors in film, with The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Heat (1995). In 2004, Mann agreed to direct a $120 million feature film based on Miami Vice for Universal Pictures, with Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx taking over the roles played by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in the ‘80s. Utilizing digital camera equipment that Mann and director of photography Dion Beebe had experimented with on Collateral (2004), the production would be beset by tropical storms, security threats and cost overruns before the director’s gritty, R-rated take on the pastel colored TV series opened in the summer of 2006 to fair weather reviews and disappointing box office.

How’d They Do It?
In 2001, Michael Mann and Jamie Foxx attended a birthday party for Muhammad Ali, where Foxx cajoled the director to make Miami Vice: The Movie. Mann recalled, “My initial reaction was, you’ve got to be kidding me, why would I want to go back to Miami Vice? Then I looked again at the pilot and some of the early episodes and I got kind of captured afresh by the deep currents and the emotional power of those stories, and I’m talking here about the first two seasons. The way the issues were brought in from the outside world into the lives of Crockett and Tubbs and the way the stories impacted on them. To me, these stories summed up Miami Vice as it originally was. Secondly, Miami has always had a real allure for me, in the same way maybe as Las Vegas had in the 1970s, it was really sexy and beautiful and really dangerous and deadly and tragic at the same time. I love those kinds of places, those Twilight Zones, you know.”

Miami Vice 2006 Elizabeth Rodriguez, Justin Theroux, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Naomie Harris

Mann’s impulse had always been to try Miami Vice as a movie. “When Tony Yerkovich wrote the pilot for this show — I read it in 1984, 1985 — and when I first read it, my first instinct was to have us not go forward as a pilot for television series, but to make this as a feature film that I would direct. That was impossible and it was already at NBC and we went ahead and did it as a television series.” He added, “Someone said, ‘Well what exactly is it about Miami Vice that compels you to do it as a film?’ I think the answer to that is that it contained in what Tony wrote a combination of large, very dramatic events in which people’s lives are changed, violence occurs, deals are made, deals are broken. The environment in which it’s happening is almost like an opiate. It’s almost too beautiful. That combination of drama happening in this very lush, romantic place, those two things together made everything poignant and magnified. That was the allure. That was the real attraction to me in why I wanted to make it in a film in 1984 and ‘85 and eventually did in 2006.”

In May 2002, it was announced that Michael Mann would write and produce a Miami Vice feature film for Universal Pictures. While the studio was highly receptive to the idea of remaking Miami Vice as an event movie, Mann saw an opportunity to push the material past its prime time television roots. “I felt strongly that nobody wanted to see some nostalgic version of Miami Vice, like the other movie versions of TV shows that have been made, with the same elements and cameos from the original cast and all that stuff. Not putting those kinds of movies down, you know, but why would you bother? If you want to see the Miami Vice from 1984, we’ve got a whole rack of really beautiful DVDs you can buy, so you can get your nostalgia trip that way.” After Mann officially came on board as director, Universal agreed to a production budget of roughly $120 million. Filming was scheduled to begin in April 2005, with Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell as leads.

Miami Vice 2006 Colin Farrell Jamie Foxx

Mann’s drive to simulate the experiences of real undercover cops pulled Miami Vice away from the confines of South Beach to locations in the Dominican Republic (standing in for Haiti), Uruguay (for Cuba) and Ciudad del Este in the notorious tri-border region of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. Stephen Donehoo — managing director for international strategic advisory firm Kissinger-McLarty Associates — was added to the payroll as political advisor. Donehoo’s job was to negotiate the production safe passage into areas of the world where few tourists could tread without serious concern for their safety. Mann asserted, “There are things you can’t artificially create. As good as our crews are, you can’t duplicate the texture, the fabric of the neighborhoods. Audiences know when you’re making it up, and they know when you visually deliver an animated environment for the actors that makes it feel like they are truly here.”

Given the complexities of what Mann wanted, production setbacks might have been inevitable. Colin Farrell dislocated a rib while weight training and had to be hospitalized during a research trip to Cuba, of all places. The actor’s injury pushed filming back six weeks, to June 2005, into what became the worst hurricane season anyone in the Gulf of Mexico had ever seen. Tropical storm Dennis, Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina each hit South Florida during the course of what stretched into a 105-day shooting schedule. In October, Hurricane Wilma slammed into a Miami highrise where a production office was located. At the same time, cast and crew were in Santo Domingo, the rowdy capital of the Dominican Republic, where security traded gunfire with an off-duty policeman who barged onto the set one day. The incident reportedly spurred Jamie Foxx to refuse to work overseas and forced Mann to scrap an elaborate climax to be filmed in Ciudad del Este.

Miami Vice 2006 Colin Farrell Jamie Foxx

Collaborating with director of photography Dion Beebe, Mann sought a texture he felt was best captured by shooting in digital high definition, as opposed to film. “We shot this film digitally and we shot Collateral digitally, actually for two different reasons. Collateral because I wanted to see into the night. For Miami Vice, yes we had a lot of the scenes that take place at night, but the primary reason for doing it had to do with what I wanted you to feel about daylight. About how light hits the water. How light hits these people. How intensely saturated and vivid everything you’re looking at becomes.” Bebee added, “Something we pursued was a very deep, dark definition in our clouds and in sky. And Miami has very dramatic sky, and weather. So some of the early testing were about how do we really bring that about into a 3-D quality on screen. There are times you look at these images of the sky and it does feel like you could reach out and touch the clouds.”

Co-producer Bryan Carroll calculated that about 4% of Miami Vice was shot on 35mm film, for slow motion or visual effects purposes. 75% of the digital footage was made on Thomson Viper cameras, like those used in Collateral. Additional footage was captured with more flexible Sony HDW-F950 or HDW-F900 cameras. Mann explained, “The requirements of shooting in Hi Def are very difficult and it’s difficult for a lot of cameramen because it’s an inversion of everything you do when you’re working with photochemical, meaning motion picture film. On film, you use light to illuminate areas that are dark and you try and protect the blacks by making blacks stay black. And Hi Def is a complete inversion in which you’re protective of the whites and you’re trying to make it so they don’t clip and there’s quite a different learning curve.” While Universal claimed that the final budget rested at $135 million, speculation in the film industry was that Miami Vice cost at least $180 million to produce.

Miami Vice 2006

Opening July 2006 in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, Miami Vice spread critics all over the map. Tony Scott, The New York Times: “Mixing pop savvy with startling formal ambition, Mr. Mann transforms what is essentially a long, fairly predictable cop-show episode into a dazzling (and sometimes daft) Wagnerian spectacle. He fuses music, pulsating color and high drama into something that is occasionally nonsensical and frequently sublime. Miami Vice is an action picture for people who dig experimental art films, and vice versa.” David Ansen, Newsweek: “It’s filled with Mann’s signature macho verisimilitude, but essentially it’s the stuff of what, in saner fiscal times, would have been a B movie. Miami Vice delivers the thrills, atmosphere and romance it promises, but it doesn’t resonate like major Mann.” Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle: “Perhaps vice isn’t what it used to be, or maybe Crockett and Tubbs just aren’t all that interesting when removed from their appropriate time slot, but this may well be the dreariest and most monochromatic time you’ll have at the movies all summer.”

With domestic box office of $63.4 million, Miami Vice was pronounced a commercial dud, despite adding $100.3 million in theaters overseas. The Los Angeles Times took Mann to task as much for failing to appeal to young moviegoers as for brokering a deal paying him close to $6 million to write, direct and produce, plus a cut of the box office gross. Mann maintained that Universal knew full and well what they were getting into. “My idea was that you do Miami Vice for real, make it a hard R-rated movie with real violence, real sexuality and using the language of the streets. That took them aback more than a little and there was a series of meetings where I had to make my point. But they knew what I wanted from the outset, and in sitting around the table it’s my job, in part, to convince them that this is the right way to go. We all have to feel that we are making the same movie, and that we want to make that movie. And to their credit, I brought my perspective on Miami Vice to them and they endorsed it completely”.

Miami Vice 2006 Colin Farrell Gong Li

Where’d You Get All of This?
“Cool Cops, Hot Show” By Richard Zoglin. Time Magazine, 16 September 1985

Miami Heat” By Daniel Fierman. Entertainment Weekly, 21 July 2006

Miami Vice — Production Notes

“Michael Mann Interview: Miami Vice By John Maguire. Confessions of a Film Critic, 27 July 2006

“Digital Vision” By Michael Goldman. Millimeter, 1 August 2006

Miami Vice Far Less Than a Universal Thriller at the Box Office” By Lorenza Munoz. The Los Angeles Times, 6 September 2006

Miami Vice (Unrated Director’s Cut). DVD audio commentary by Michael Mann. Universal Studios Home Entertainment (2006)

Tags: Ambiguous ending · Femme fatale · Gangsters and hoodlums · Heist · Interrogation · Prostitute · Shootout

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Roger L // Jan 11, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane. I think Mann captured what the original MV was about without the pastels even they abandoned by season 3. Fear, paranoia, cool-beyond-cool and the handheld digital camerawork captures an anxiety that is close to the dark heart of the original. Truly a Reagan-era time capsule. Thanx.

  • 2 J.D. // Jan 12, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Great minds think alike! I also posted an in-depth look at this much maligned film. Nice to see we are of like minds on this one.

    I agree that the whole point of this film is not to delve into the backstories of the characters or really develop their traits. All we need to know about these people is what they do. Their actions define their character. Nobody complains of the lack of backstories for the characters in LAW & ORDER so why should it matter, here?

    I think that I prefer the theatrical cut over the director’s cut because Mann is not afraid to drop us right into it right from the get-go, whereas the director’s cut opens more like a traditional Mann film. Still, there are things that I do like about both versions.

  • 3 Flickhead // Jan 12, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Twenty minutes after seeing it, I forgot every frame of this film.

  • 4 Joe Valdez // Jan 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Roger: Thanks so much for dropping by and logging a comment. I couldn’t agree with you more, except to clarify that nothing about the movie feels like a Reagan Era time capsule. I think both the show and the movie do evoke the underworld economy flowing just below the surface of the economy most of us think we know.

    J.D.: What’s interesting about Miami Vice is how the TV series was able to appeal to people who were really just into the music videos, the clothes and the lifestyles being flaunted, while hipsters who might have suspected something else was going on behind Reaganomics saw something deeper. The film version never even tries to appeal to the MTV crowd. That’s one reason I love it. Thanks for commenting!

    Ray: Could this criticism be age related?

  • 5 Flickhead // Jan 13, 2010 at 4:30 am

    I think so, Joe. I see it on a lot of ‘reality TV,’ where the camera locks on for a moment or two on someone giving a pensive stare over a situation of no true importance. That image can speak volumes to some; to me it has no value.

    I think this trickles down from TV commercials and especially music videos, their fleeting shots of performer/models displaying “attitude” where none need exist, the rapid movement, image upon image fired like bullets from an automatic weapon, keeping the eye engaged while dulling the mind through incessant pounding.

  • 6 Patrick // Jan 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I think this is a very good movie, and there seems to be something of a reappraisal going on with critical opinion being revised upwards. I got hooked on the ending (from the end of the shootout to the end), I pull the DVD out and watch it periodically, very well put together. I can’t think of two more devastating words than when Farrell says “including me”.

  • 7 Joe Valdez // Jan 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Ray: Good argument. Michael Mann is not making films for everyone — I think The Last of the Mohicans may be his only picture that everyone from the press box to the cheap seats agreed was good — and this one certainly has its liabilities. I think once you ignore Crockett & Tubbs and just immerse yourself in the world they’re in, the movie works so much better.

    Patrick: I don’t think Miami Vice was what a lot of people were expecting. It may have gotten reviewed as an action movie or as a character drama and it sort of fails on both counts. But the level of visual stimuli here and mood really become more clear the longer they have to percolate. Thanks for commenting!

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