What is Michael Mann’s secret? The nervous cutting, the realistic sound, the dark-blue atmospheres, the melancholy twilight panorama, the cheesy music, the weird but efficient HD shots? No, they are not exactly the secret, but the means to concretize it. Then, what is “it”? Like all great creators, it is a personal vision of the world. However, there is a big distinction in the case of filmmakers because they can use the real world to recreate their own world. And the specific skill required for this kind of work is the inquiring glimpse into the unseen. And believe me, Mann possesses it in spades. Let me explain.
All of Mann’s outcast characters evolve through a material zone similar to their mental landscapes. The three dissidents of The Last of the Mohicans wander through the forest, outside of the official paths and between French, English and Amerindian territories. The cop and the thief in Heat are always searching for something into deserted industrial areas. The De Niro character even dies in a place like this. In Miami Vice, Mann conceived this specific material zone all along the boundaries of the cities and countries. Where did he pick all these location to shoot? Miami? I don’t know and I don’t care. What is important is the expressionist effect on the viewer, who knows instantly the guys on screen are not ordinary guys like him. Because, Mann’s Miami Vice it is all about that: out of the ordinary guys.
Again, as in Collateral, one of the two lead actors drops the ball when it comes to character intensity. The emptiness of Colin Farrell eyes is particularly hopeless, but not sufficient to ruin the film. Beyond this little casting matter, Mann delivers a less moving, but clearer movie than Heat about the essential affinity between cops and crooks. He demonstrates that their affinity is not through a grey, non-Manichean morality, but in the straight nature of their life’s thrills. The cops’ first aim is not to catch the crooks because they have broken the law. And the crooks’ motivation is not to escape the cops to break the law. Actually, all of them love playing a competitive game: who is stronger than the other? That is the question! That is why they are doing this job. They don’t care about right or wrong when they hear the bullets whistling, smell the scent of the powder, see the threatening features of their enemies and use guns, cars, boats and planes to win.
We never see the people who don’t carry guns, like you and me, in Miami Vice. That is the way the characters are out of the ordinary guys, not that different but more powerful. Unfortunately, it is not wisdom that rules the world, but strength. And the one who dares to handle a gun gets the strength to rule the world. The problem, now is that the rulers of our world are playing on a worldwide scale the same game as Miami Vice‘s cops and crooks. However, in this case, the stake is not a big shipment of drugs but the destruction of the world. Yes, the Mann’s last opus is another prophetic “film de genre”. Fuck all the stupid bad reviews about an overly tricky plot or a not charismatic enough duo, the film hits its goal: transporting the viewer where he is not usually allowed to go. Enjoy the journey.
Review by Jean Carlo Lavoie