In the original Miami Vice (1984 – 1990), mood and atmosphere were favored over conventional plotting to justify a meditative state. The 2006 adaptation followed suit, but rather than display its presentation on traditional 35mm film stock, director-writer Michael Mann opts to capture the fabric of aughts Miami with an experimental digital look. The heavy noise of early digital continues the trajectory Mann dabbled with during the filming of Collateral and Ali. The immediacy has an almost fourth-wall breaking quality; our eyes recognize the images as something authentic, but everything within the audio/visual frame informs us of its alien nature; a heightened but tangible view of a world just outside our own.
Instead of Crockett sitting on his boat, overlooking a sunset with heavy synth illuminating his isolated existence, Moby’s “One of These Mornings” plays as Crockett and business partner/soon-to-be-lover Isabella drive a speedboat toward a seemingly endless horizon. It’s not a disregard for the original stylings of the series as much as it is an update. The pastiche of ’80s fashion “No earth tones” trends forgone in favor of sleek blacks, whites, and blues. The current century was (and arguably still is) discovering its own fashion aestheticism, currently leaving Vice in a perpetual flux of orchestral score, early 2000s electronic house music, and angst filled nu-metal.
During the day, Miami is filled with clear blue skies, few clouds lingering above its inhabitants. After sunset, city lights fill the landscape with a neon glow, skies reflecting the weight of the Vice world; a heavy, thunderous atmosphere and reflective of Mann’s nightlife. Miami Vice is a film with a sense of foreboding, anxious recognition of the events about to unfold.
The theatrical release cuts immediately from a de-saturated Universal logo to bodies in media res. As the rest of the club dances the night away to the beats of “Numb/Encore” Miami Dade, led by Tubbs and Crockett, are entrenched in their own pursuits. We watch the team attempt to bust pimp named Neptune, only to be drawn away by a desperate phone call from a prior informant, Alonzo Stevens. Alonzo’s call informs them of incoming foul play. We don’t know Tubbs and Crockett’s history with Alonzo, but we understand it.
Characters are vessels, informing us of themes and motifs, speaking with euphoric intimacy. The dialect of Miami Vice is broad yet introspective, revealing enough of these characters to give us understanding of their world views. Jaime Foxx’s Ricardo Tubbs tells Alonzo, “You don’t need to go home.” We only catch a glimpse of Alonzo’s life before he joins his deceased family, but it’s in these small moments that inform us on a whole other world we aren’t privy to. Miami is constantly moving and we only catch a glimpse of it. Yet, Mann never allows a character depart without leaving an impact. Every ounce of life still matters.
Miami Vice captures people in perpetual motion, chasing some semblance of happiness or struggling to stay afloat. It’s an intricate ballet of duty vs. morality as Tubbs and Crockett maneuver through their world of order and chaos. Visuals and mood accentuating emotions rather than traditional structure.
Like Heat, Mann conveys the duality of honor bound men. Miami Vice shows two men, Crockett and Tubbs, and their separate attempts at achieving individual happiness. Though unlike Hannah and McCauley finding each other in the vast Los Angeles landscape, their kill-or-be-killed collision course, Vice is interested in the duality of duty and unity in camaraderie rather than lifestyles and professions.
The Tubbs and Trudy romance solidifies a feeling of home and comfort not found with Crockett. Tubbs and Trudy share a love-making scene that feels shockingly organic. We watch them playful exchange roles in the shower before tenderly embracing. Tubbs even throws in an “abrupt” joke, the two lovers laughter as essential as anything in the romance. It’s also tragically uncommon to see men and women of color engage in any sort of love scene; let alone how people can laugh and fool around while “fooling around.” Crockett is a different story.
The Dade crew shakedown an informant as Crockett stares off into the ocean, longing for something beyond the horizon. The voices of the characters are muted, the music swells for a brief moment and Crockett snaps back into the scene. He longs for more. And through this next undercover job, he is able to find a connection with their mark’s financial advisor, Isabella. Their first love scene is initially rendered out of focus, only the waves of the ocean are clear around Crockett and Isabella’s tender romance; Crockett having finally reached the other side of that horizon. The careers that brought them together will eventually be their undoing. In contrast to Trudy and Tubbs, we only get distant glimpses of the hands or bodies of Crockett and Isabella embracing one another. Though the affection is true, much of their dialogue switches between their personal connection and doubts. A subconscious awareness of shape of things to come or business bound interrogation? It might not matter. Their emotions are real even if their identities aren’t.
Glimmers of identity seep through the cracks. Tubbs tells Crockett, “Fabricated identity and what’s up are about to collapse into one frame. Are you ready for that?” To which Crockett responds truthfully, “I absolutely am not.” A man bound by duty; all he is is what he’s going after, even if he doesn’t want to be.
While the camaraderie between Crockett and Tubbs is still present here as it was in the original series, the movie ends up not being so much about their partnership as it is about their individual pursuits of happiness. Originally, Miami Vice would have ended with the two solidifying a partnership for the ages. The film certainly presents all that through its run time, but a shooting near set in the Dominican Republic forced Mann to write a new ending. It’s my understanding that it involved being shot in Paraguay, a local mall, an abandoned building outside of town and a climax that supposedly rivaled Heat in scope and ambition. Via EW, “…it turned into a borderline-ridiculous struggle featuring terrorist syndicates, hurricans, horrific injuries, technical disasters, and dead turtles. Hell, some if it was even in the script.” So basically it was Bad Boys 2 but, you know, with Michael Mannisms.
We’re still left with plenty of scenes to establish the bonds these two share. When Tubbs confronts Crockett’s obvious deep undercover issues Tubbs pulls him aside saying, “There is undercover and then there is ‘which way is up’?” immediately following with, “I would never doubt you.” In one of their final scenes together, the two sit in a car awaiting a call from one of the Aryan thugs leading into the final confrontation. No words are spoken between the two partners once they get the call. They share a look, bump fists, and head into a showdown befitting a classic western. Their final moment together after a vicious final shootout, Tubbs and Crockett only share a final nod, both understanding and trusting one another to go take care of their own business. Crockett whisks away Isabella from the authorities and Tubbs goes to wait by Trudy’s bedside.
Just as it opens, Miami Vice closes on bodies in motion. Mogwai’s “Auto Rock” swells over the final images. Trudy begins to stir as she and Tubbs hold hands with a split second freeze frame, their relationship presenting an ideal of stability in Mann’s world. Crockett and Isabella part ways. Isabella returning beyond the horizon as Crockett walks back to the hospital to rejoin his friend. Crockett enters the doorway.
The Miami sky remains heavy.