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Miami Vice: The Movie Actually Captures the City

"Miami Vice” was released July 28, 2006. The film’s domestic box office gross was $63,450,470.
January 26, 2008 By Matt Meltzer in  | 8 Comments

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When the Miami Vice movie came out last year, a lot of people didn’t have a lot of nice things to say. Things like “Colin Farrell is a bad actor,” and “The show was much better” and “The movie was way too long.” And while it would be hard to argue against those points, I’m going to go ahead and say it right here: I liked Miami Vice the movie. And not because I’m some huge fan of everything Miami or anything Jamie Foxx does. It’s just that, unlike most films set here, this movie actually manages to portray Miami in a manner somewhere in the neighborhood of reality.

Miami Vice is dark, gritty, ambiguous and violent. Very few scenes in the film are shot during the day, and each character is a grim portrayal of both sides of the law. The film is one of the first I’ve seen to take place in Miami that almost entirely avoids South Beach, showing Miami as a troubled city and not a vacation paradise.

And, as most movies that take place here fail to do, this film accurately represents the overwhelming Hispanic population. That is, Hispanics in this film are not just the dishwashers and gardeners (as LA-dwelling directors and producers often assume they are) but are the police, the air traffic controllers, and the normal people walking down the street.

MICHAEL MANN CAPTURES MIAMI

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Anyone who was a fan of the show is likely a fan of director Michael Mann. His style is not for everyone. It is characterize\ed by short, indirect dialog, dark plotlines, and abrupt, unsatisfying endings. You have to really be paying attention to know what’s going on to understand one of his movies. And Miami Vice is no different. People who remember the old TV show remember the pastels and the colorful cars, but what they forget is that it was classic Mann; extremely dark and bordering on depressing.

Mann trades the pastels and stucco for a humid nighttime where the streetlights show the water in the air and the towers of downtown shield the world from the insanity happening below. Crockett and Tubbs are just as dark and troubled as they were in the TV show, although Colin Farrell is a disturbingly awful actor who might make Don Johnson roll over is his career’s grave.

DON JOHNSON WOULD HAVE DONE IT FOR FREE

While Foxx pulls off the hard-nosed black cop very well, Farrell suffers form the “Kevin Costner in Robin Hood” disease where his accent changes from scene to scene. His character is supposed to be from Georgia, and occasionally a slight southern drawl comes through. But sometimes he’s plain American, sometimes a hint of Irish, and sometimes unintelligible garble. While the 70s porn star mustache and long hair make him distinguishable, they still look a bit out of place. Casting may have been this movie’s fatal flaw.

A PLOT AS COMPLICATED AS YOUR TYPICAL DRUG DEAL

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The plotline is as complicated and indirect as any on the TV show, it just lasts for 140 minutes instead of 60. It begins with an attempt at a prostitution bust at Mansion (which is actually the Conrad in Brickell. While this movie did capture the character of Miami pretty well, it still had more than a few technical mistakes) that gets interrupted by a drug deal gone bad. Sonny and Rico are recruited by the FBI to go undercover, posing as transporters, to infiltrate an international drug operation. Or, basically, the plot of every episode of Miami Vice ever.

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Along the way, Sonny falls for the female head of the Colombian end of the operation, a stunning Cubnaese named Isabella, played by Gong Li. After seeing Cocaine Cowboys, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Griselda Blanco and Mickey Munday (although Farrell and Li are considerably better looking) and wonder if they ever took passionate weekends away in Cuba. I’m going to guess not, but the romantic interludes in the film serve as a nice “what might have been.”

Deals go bad, cops get blown up, and eventually the film ends with the classic Miami Vice ending of Sonny having to watch another woman he cared about leave his life because of the job he does. It is in very much that old-western style of “I must be moving on now. Don’t think about me anymore,” that went out with the genre. Mann seems to like bringing it back.

Tubbs is also on the verge of losing a woman he cares about, except his is fellow vice cop Trudy who is abducted by a gang of skinheads and blown up by a ruthless drug middleman. The film ends ambiguously, as most of the episodes did, and leaves you wondering what happened to many of the important people you’d come to follow. But this is the genius of Michael Mann: Nothing is obvious, nothing is on the surface, you must dig deeper and think critically to get what he does. This may be why many people thought the movie was worse than it was.

IF THE WORST MISTAKE YOU MAKE IS CONFUSING YOUR BRIDGES, YOU’RE DOING OK

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As I said before, the film had its glaring physical inaccuracies. The final shootout is supposed to happen under the 27th Ave. bridge, but as anyone who lived on Brickell in the summer of 2005 knows, it was shot right near Miami Ave. This was when we would perpetually get fliers in our mailboxes saying “Due to the filming of Miami Vice you may hear some gunshots late at night. Do not be alarmed.” I’m sure when they filmed the TV show in the 80s they didn’t circulate the same fliers. Mostly because they couldn’t guarantee that their bullets were the only ones in the air.

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They also seem to drive everywhere via the stretch of I-95 from the Macarthur Causeway to the end at US-1. Again, I remember them shutting this stretch down every night for a large part of the summer, but anyone in Miami knows full well that to get to the port you do not go south on 95 from downtown. But as far as Miami errors go, this movie does a better job than any work of fiction I’ve ever seen.

I’m not sure why so many people dogged Miami Vice the movie. Maybe they were expecting it to be exactly like the TV show, and were disappointed when they found it to not be what they had remembered. Or maybe it’s because time has led us to think of the old TV show as light and fun because of the colors and the wardrobe. Maybe people forgot that Michael Mann left his footprint on that show just as much as he did on the film, making it dark and complicated. And maybe people just don’t like that anymore. But if you are from Miami, or at least live here, this move stays truer to the city than most Hollywood offerings, and that alone is reason enough to overlook Collin Farrell.

Related Categories: Movie Reviews

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

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8 Comments on

"Miami Vice: The Movie Actually Captures the City"

Scott says:

I actually loved this film.  One of the things that I so enjoyed about it was that the original show was always about setting a mood and a tone and this film delivered that as well.  Thankfully, with a modern edginess rather than trying to capture that 80s feel.

Great review, Matt.

Posted on 01/26/2008 at 9:47 PM

Carlos Miller says:

I haven’t seen the movie and might rent it one night if I’m bored, but what also needs to be pointed out is that the original series was no accurate representation of Miami either.

It was filmed during an era when South Beach was a crime-ridden ghetto, but it portrayed South Beach as the glitzy glamour spot that it eventually became.

In fact, it became that way because of Miami Vice. Michael Mann was able to put forward the vision that Barbara Capitman had been trying to implement for years.

Because of the popularity of the show, suddenly tourists from Europe wanted to come here, whereas before, they vacationed elsewhere.

With the European tourists came the nightclubs, the model agencies and “Sobe”, although I don’t think that really stuck.

By that time, all the men in Miami were walking around with no socks and linen blazers, so the tourists were able to further appreciate the “authenticity” of Miami Vice.

That is, until they started getting whacked in the early 1990s.

Posted on 01/26/2008 at 10:02 PM

Maria de los Angeles says:

Good point, Carlos.  South Beach was glitzy glamorous *before* that era as well.  The ghetto phase was sandwiched in between.

Matt, forgive me for not reading the review ... it’d be a spoiler.  However, didn’t you know Manola had an affair with Colin Farrell?  LOL!

Posted on 01/28/2008 at 11:50 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

That video is pretty sweet. Sorry I’d missed that. And yeah, Maria, osrry to dog your boy. But you werent with him for his giant, giant acting ability. now were you? Be honest.

Posted on 01/28/2008 at 11:56 PM

Carlos Miller says:

Maria de los Angeles,

You’re absolutely right. South Beach was the place to be during the 1920s and 1930s. The Art Deco district grew out of the destruction of the 1926 hurricane.

Because of the Art Deco District, I’m not even sure it was called that back then, Miami Beach was able to survive the Great Depression better than most cities.

The Art Deco hotels were turned into military barracks during WW II and during the 1950s, those hotels started getting neglected because of the popularity of the new Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels a few miles north.

Rather than a tourist spot, South Beach became a haven of Jewish retirees, who could recognize the prime real estate value of the area, even if city official were unable to do so.

It was relatively crime-free until the Mariel Boatlift, which turned it into one of the highest crime areas in the country.

I remember that era well. I was a teenager. We would come during the day, but would be sure to leave before nightfall.

Posted on 01/29/2008 at 12:38 PM

Gino says:

I loved this movie. It was filmed in such a authentic manner. I moved out of Miami a few years ago, but there is something about the place that I will always miss. Somehow Miami Vice is able to give that true Miami feeling. You know, all the humidity, the orange light that the city puts off from the millions of lights. Espicially the shots from the helicopter. I use to fly out of Opa Locka and at night, the city of Miami is amazing

Posted on 02/20/2008 at 2:59 AM

Margaret Fraser says:

I loved the movie - Colin Farrell was terrific.  The dance scenes were very sensual. Highly recommend it.

Posted on 06/12/2009 at 2:58 PM

Mann Fan says:

Mann also knows how to make a film look great. He shoots with digital cameras so everything almost looks superimposed over everything else. This is especially awe-inspiring when characters are on rooftops, shot against the night sky and the blinking city lights behind them.

Posted on 09/24/2010 at 3:10 AM

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