In the original series, Miami Vice carried the same traits as its film reboot. Mood and atmosphere were favored over conventional plotting to justify a meditative state. Instead of Crockett sitting on his boat, overlooking a sunset with a heavy synth score illuminating isolation, Moby’s “One of These Mornings” plays as Crockett and business partner/soon-to-be-lover drive a speedboat towards 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 trends have been forgone in favor of sleek blacks, whites, and blues. The current century was (and arguably still is) discovering its own aestheticism, leaving Vice in a perpetual flux of orchestral score, early 2000s electronic house music, and angst filled nu-metal.
The theatrical release immediately cuts from the Universal logo to bodies in motion. As the rest of the world dances the night away to the beats of “Numb/Encore” Miami Dade, led by Tubbs and Crockett, are entrenched in their own pursuits in the name of law.
Miami Vice captures people in perpetual motion, either chasing after some semblance of happiness or struggling to stay afloat. It’s an intricate ballet of duties and morality as Tubbs and Crockett maneuver through the world of order and chaos. Visuals and mood accentuate emotions.
Mann captures digital textures unorthodox to celluloid. Digital noise flushes the screen with imagery unfamiliar to audiences. Mann’s use of digital requests our attention and warrants our satisfaction. Digital presents an immediacy uncommon to film, and as such there is a euphoric yet alien feeling to the crisp imagery. During the day, Miami is filled with clear skies. After sunset, the city lights fills the landscape with a neon glow, alien to a traditional film look. The skies grow heavy, thunderous and reflective of Mann’s nightlife. It leaves the film with a sense of foreboding, anxious recognition of the events about to unfold.
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 a widower “You don’t need to go home.” We only catch a glimpse of the widower’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.
Much like Heat, Mann conveys the duality of honor bound men. Though unlike Hannah and McCauley finding each other in the vast Los Angeles landscape only to be put on a kill-or-be-killed collision course, Miami Vice shows two men, Crockett and Tubbs, and their separate attempts at achieving individual happiness. It’s a duality of duty rather than lifestyles.
The Tubbs and Trudy romance solidifies a feeling of home and comfort not found with Crockett. Tubbs and Trudy also get to share an organic love-making scene between two people of color. It’s just not common to see men and women of color to engage in any sort of love scene, it’s never shown how people can laugh and fool around while “fooling around.” Crockett is a different story.
Crockett and Tubbs along with their crew shakedown an informant (Eddie Marsan swinging Miami Vice dialogue like nobody’s business) and Crockett stares off into the ocean, longing for some semblance of peace. 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 his career he is able to find a potential future with Isabella (Gong Li is radiant here) but the thing that brought them together will eventually be their undoing.
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.” But he’s a man bound by duty; all he is is what he’s going after – sound familiar?
The camaraderie between Crockett and Tubbs is still present here as it was in the series, but admittedly the movie ends up not being so much about their friendship as much as it is about their individual pursuits of happiness. Originally the film would have ended with the two solidifying a partnership for the ages, and the film certainly presents all that, but a shooting near set in the Dominican Republic scared away Jaime Foxx and forced Mann to write a new ending.
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.
Just as it opens, Miami Vice closes on bodies in motion. Auto Rock swells over the final images. Tubbs grabs Trudy’s side as she wakes up from a coma – their relationship presenting an ideal of stability in Mann’s world. Crockett and Isabella part ways, with Crockett walking back to the hospital to rejoin his friend. Crockett enters the doorway… Our time with these characters is over. The Miami sky remains heavy.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures