Micheal Mann's Miami Vice
Michael Mann's latest diamond starts abruptly, we're thrown into the uneasy rhythms of a nightclub scene where we know nothing about no one, or what's happening. The chaos of the place, with its disturbing intensity, every part of the frame filled with information, and movement. The thing that makes it complicated the most are the videos shown in the background, everything giving us the feeling of "vice everywhere" but I wasn't aware of that yet.
To put things very simply (too simply), in Collateral the two characters (Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx) represented the dichotomy between evil and good, rationality and emotions, cold and warm, strategic and human, etc. Here it all is intertwined for the two main characters, to do good they got to be bad, so they enter a world of vice and chaos in order to achieve the exact opposite. Which is why the title is perfect, "vice" is a good word to describe the moral nightmare happening on the screen.
Many times there is a dialogue that is not clear, it can't be clear since we will only know what they're talking about a few minutes later. This happens at least five times in the film and it works perfectly in every case. We're in a world we know nothing about, so we're discovering.
The first cut to a shot outside changes the film completely, a different possibility opens up with the change in the depth of field (especially with the HD camera Mann has used in his last two films: it allows much more depth in low-light situations.) Michael Mann is aware of the space opening, so the camera is aware. Sometimes I think art is all about greater awareness and nothing else.
There are two key moments that state very explicitly what Mann does in the whole film.
In Nicholas' place, while they are trying to convince him, there is a cut to a wide shot of the wide ocean (Sonny's head is barely visible on the very left of the frame). Then there is a low-angle shot of Sonny looking outside the window. The sense of wonderment and curiosity in front of the possibilities that lie ahead is obvious, and the wide sea with the infinite horizon makes that feeling very concrete.
The morning after Isabella and Sonny have sex and fall in love, they are both relaxed and happy for the first time. There is a cut to people slowly running between them on the background. So unrelated to what's happening, though it is crucial in every way and exemplifies really well the intensity achieved in Michael Mann's cinema. The surrounding is merged into the action, it is not simply a background but an active part of what happens.
These ideas exist in every single shot of Mann's last two films: the background, the space in between, and the lens flares become part of the action, part of the feeling, the drama.
In Miami Vice the characters talk very rarely about themselves but I feel like I know what's happening in their minds or hearts at any given moment. None of this excludes the fact that the characters are also very alien to us.
The movie builds itself very slowly and it comes alive after Sonny and Isabella have sex and fall in love. I don't mean this literally, I think the whole film is great but the film is primarily a love story, almost all of Mann's films are...
Miami Vice changes completely when Ricardo's "girlfriend" is caught, things get more serious than ever and we, the audience, begin to see that this is not only a game. People we care about might be lost forever.
The usual Michael Mann touch, a still picture comes soon after the beginning, the camera pans from right to left. It could go unnoticed for an inexperienced viewer but not if you adore, just like me, every single still photograph used in his films. Some great examples are the paradise in Collateral and the happy pictures of the families in the amazing Manhunter (The film that describes most explicitly his concerns, at least in terms of content.)
And then, the lens flares that Michael Mann loves using, just as I was thinking he chose not to use them this time there comes a moment in the final shootout (a carnage) when they all fill the frame with different colors. I can't think of a better way Mann could connect the abstract with the representational.
The ending is so precise, there is so much attention to rhythm and the film is so well built up to that point that every moment is very precious. I would argue it's more profound than the famous meeting in Heat.
Just look at the left-to-right tracking shot, showing us the bed, where they had their last sex. We didn't see "the action", there was no point in showing that, we are so well involved with the characters, and what they represent it's better left to our imagination. Kind of like that great camera move on Hitchcock's Vertigo informing us that Scottie saw Madeleine naked.
Also, the last shot is unbelievable, perhaps not on its own, but in context. It's simply Sonny walking into the hospital where Ricardo's girlfriend is. There is openness, a lack of conclusion, an unending. It reminds me of the beginning in some ways.
This might be his best film yet, or not. What I know for sure is that a great filmmaker who is now a master of the medium he is using, spitted out another visual/mental music for us to remind how great cinema can be when its full potential is being used.
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