In Mannworld, some say, all is gleam and mood — cool-neon edges, tracer-fire cityscapes, a man with a code of solitary professionalism, a looking-glass nemesis, a woman in shock, intrusive 80’s rock ballads and unplaceable club muzak. There will be a deafening centrifugal shootout, long shots of two people meeting by the water or in an industrial lot, an unembarrassed embarrassing love scene in a great apartment. There will be all this, and yet... take us there, Michael. Take us and make us feel dangerous.
Yes, Miami Vice unironically — and magnificently — follows Mann’s code, as refiltered through his HD artistry of late and the new resident savant Colin Farrell as fallen-heroic vessel. It’s a sight to behold, though the gravitas and grandeur of his take on undercover bravado may not mesmerize all comers. But damned if it isn’t intoxicating, between the epic go-it-alone masculinity and forceful, near-expressionist stylistic control (crucial in image, sometimes crippling in his amped-up music), whose tugs at holster and heart remind that the toughest not only have but are defined by a special brand of sentimentality.
For this, lost boy Colin Farrell, in Vincent Vega ’do, is appropriate as Crockett: knowing that Farrell really won’t be anyone but Farrell fits his character’s falling unapologetically for a criminal. Jamie Foxx (in circuit-board-precise facial hair) matches the Tubbs of TV by fading into being the secondary figure, despite Foxx’s being, well, infinitely cooler. Their mutual loyalty consists of a respect that dignifies mistakes in one another, and Farrell’s great folie d’amour is a biggie: the righthand woman (Gong Li) of the drug kingpin they’re smoking out.
The story — the simmering deep-cover investigation, spanning the Caribbean, of a ratted-upon drug informant — is an episode fleshed out to feature length, in keeping with the director’s practice of immaculate blow-ups of genre premises. But Miami Vice the movie most notably adopts the high-octane confidence that allowed the show its offhand taste-making (though the director’s career and cornier quirks could evoke the continuum of a TV series). Plus, bona fide Miami heat lightning.
Of course, for all the sheen (Collateral, said one critic, was like a movie from the future), Mann is very old-school, telling stories about men in work and love. In Vice it’s something new again: the ethically opposed professional criminal and his tragically beloved woman exist in the same person, Gong’s all-business Isabella. “Time is luck” — Mann reuses the line from the couple in his adaptation Manhunter, and this time comes closer to earning it.
Miami Vice’s action, especially a centerpiece shootout and a macabre bolted-down-cam massacre inside a car, is as ballistic and precise as any in Mann’s work (one appreciates again the din of the bullets). It’s all the more fraught since long before then Crockett and Tubbs emerge not as men but as moonlit giants: a nightscape shot is cropped to show Crockett and Tubbs foot to crown like buildings, their jackets like the floodlit architecture behind them. “I pay for a result, not a service,” says the drug kingpin at one point, and Miami Vice shows its creator just as focused.