After the blazing success of Collateral, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Michael Mann‘s return to his iconic TV series would be a rousing success. However, Mann has never been one to tell a simple story. While adapting any of his storylines on Miami Vice could have been an excellent nostalgia pull, Mann swung for the fences. This version of Miami Vice, featuring Colin Farrell and Jaime Foxx, might have been Mann’s most ambitious film yet. Complete with mind-blowing cinematography and a wildly inconsistent storyline, Miami Vice is one of Mann’s most impressive spectacles.

Miami Vice 2006 Michael Mann

One night before a bust, Crockett (Farrell) and Tubbs (Foxx) receive a call from a former CI. When their source kills himself after learning of his family’s demise, they are paired up with FBI Agent Fujima (Ciaran Hinds) as they go undercover. They quickly establish relationships with drug traffickers Yero (John Ortiz) and Montoya (Luis Tosar). However, when Crockett falls for Montoya’s romantic partner Isabella (Gong Li), it’s unclear if they can finish the job.

The digital photography of Miami Vice has somehow aged even better in the years since its release. The digital grain of early cameras firmly time capsules the film while also achieving an unmatchable visual aesthetic. The power of digital photography has never been more obvious than the twinkling lights of Miami or the rippling waves of the Ocean. With Mann’s excellent blocking and camera placement, Miami Vice creates dozens of unbelievable images. It was incredible what Mann and Dion Beebe crafted in Collateral, but here, they achieve something truly extraordinary.

Miami Vice 2006 Michael Mann

The performances from Farrell and Li light up the screen. Mann’s close-ups capture their chemistry, and it is dazzling. There’s sexual tension in every shot, and most importantly, they prove extremely capable of playing guarded but vulnerable. In the years since Miami Vice, Farrell has admitted to his substance abuse issues forcing him into rehab as soon as Miami Vice concluded. Meanwhile, Li learned her lines phonetically because she did not speak English. The fact that this was the result is somewhat dumbfounding, partly because they elevate Miami Vice every moment they’re on screen together.

Foxx and Naomie Harris present an intriguing alternate path to the film. While Foxx was initially set up for a more prominent role, the chaos around the shoot caused him to step back. This, in turn, resulted in additional time with Farrell, but potentially to the exclusion of Harris. When Foxx and Harris are on screen together, they are quite magnificent. Sadly, losing them for any amount of time frustrates.

Miami Vice 2006 Michael Mann

Perhaps the one aspect really holding back Miami Vice stems from weak antagonists. Their plots and plans do not make sense. The Aryan Brotherhood featured is there for muscle, but the Yero/John Ortiz plotline is simply too long. We understand early that Ortiz does not trust our protagonist, but we return to his skepticism over and over again. Combing his plotline with the white supremacists hints too heavily at his villainy, and other than a somewhat anti-climatic final shootout, there’s no reason they had to be paired. While the sequence is shot well, the tension dissipates rather quickly.

Still, Mann pushes Miami Vice into special territory as it innovated digital photography. With enough committed performances and an excellent soundtrack, Miami Vice still has plenty to offer. While audiences may get caught up in the intricate plot mechanics, the visual aesthetic and tone are among the very best of Mann’s career.

Alan’s Rating: 8/10

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