Miami Vice

Miami Vice ★★★★½

I’ve seen this movie at least half a dozen times if not more and it loses not an ounce of its electricity with each viewing. As a cop caper it has an obvious forebear in “Heat,” which by contrast looks like the conclusion of Mann’s modernist period where “Vice” looks like Mann firing in a full post-modernist mode. He’s inventing new language here, constituting a new grammar from the old vocabulary of the policier. This movie has the bones of a cop caper, but its vision of police is so hyper-real that it bears virtually no resemblance to the reality of real world detective work or even more traditional cinematic fantasies of law enforcement. 

The vice squad here is preternaturally competent and yet somehow still lost in a miasma of post-industrial chaos and technological intricacy. There’s no situation they can’t face down, but whether they can actually resolve it is another thing altogether. 

That’s the actual substance of the film, in fact: the idea that even if you’re supremely adept at negotiating the vagaries of a technologically fraught, economically brutal new century, you’re still essentially helpless to its whims. 

The action in the film is terse, disjointed, even jagged in shape, all in order to make room for the discordantly beautiful, atmospheric shots of what is essentially cinematic room tone: slow pans over a rushing waterfall, a long South American city street where residents are sifting through mountains of broken, discarded packing foam, the wake of a speedboat cutting through the Florida Straits, and countless other indelible details. 

The images are chock full of compression noise and pock-marked with hot white, blown-out areas of the frame, all artifacts of Mann’s aggressive use of nascent digital video, and all imbued with a sense of digital native-ness that still feels ahead of its time. Pictorially it’s an ugly movie—even the fashions, and Farrell’s hideous mustache and mullet, are objectively barf—but it’s also up front and unabashed in its visual imperfections in a way that cinema rarely is. Which is what gives it such a strange, alluring beauty. I can’t think of another film that was more truly of the 21st Century as early in the 21st Century as “Miami Vice” was.