“Another Look” is a segment at Monkeys Fighting Robots where we reconsider a film from the past. Sometimes, films are derided and dismissed immediately when they may actually have something to offer. Other times, they are lauded and celebrated and the blind momentum of praise allows the film to grab the “great” label when, in fact, they may be something much less. “On Second Thought” defends those poorly-received films, and it looks at those “great” films with a little more critical thought.
Let’s take Another Look at Michael Mann’s 2006 film adaptation of his 80s TV hit, Miami Vice…
Preconception can doom a film, regardless of the film’s ultimate merits. Occasionally, critics and audiences go into a picture with ideas and notions about what they should see, so when they see something that doesn’t match up with what they had already imprinted in their memory, negativity creeps into their opinions. Backlash builds, and a film can be crippled no matter how good it may be in the face of what was expected.
Michael Mann’s 2006 film, Miami Vice, exists in the realm of his 80s police drama in name – and names – alone. Prior to the film’s release, in the months leading up, the very mention of Mann returning to his wildly successful hyper-colored cop show filled audiences and critics with images of alligators and pastels. Colin Farrell and Jaime Foxx were set to take over the roles of Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, and with the brilliant crime-drama mind of Mann at the helm, anticipation built in the summer of ’06. And then, when the film hit theaters, fans of the show left scratching their heads, wondering what they had just seen.
There were no alligators, no pastel colors, no bright colors at all really. The Miami Vice film didn’t resemble the successful show in just about any way, outside of the fact that Crockett and Tubbs were involved, and they were cops. Critical and audience response was lukewarm at best. While some critics praised the film, many left the theater feeling hollow, and some missed the point entirely. Claudia Puig of USA Today said “All this movie has in common with its ancestor are speedboats, shotguns, and drug-dealing Colombians.” Puig, along with the majority of critics and audiences, were so consumed with what they expected, that they forgot to acknowledge what they were seeing. What they were seeing was one of Michael Mann’s very best films, and one of the most direct and visually stunning crime dramas of all time.
Farrell and Foxx are Crockett and Tubbs, and much of the criticism towards this film over the years has been their lack of chemistry on screen. They barely seem to talk to each other when they go undercover in some of the most threatening situations on the planet. This is the very point. These are two undercover officers who have lived and breathed almost every second with each other in some compromising situations, seemingly for years. They are more than partners, more than brothers, they must function as one mind sometimes to stay ahead of the criminals they are infiltrating. Their lack of dialogue with each other is the most realistic aspect of the story, and it fits where these characters are in their lives. The absence of exposition doesn’t keep Crockett and Tubbs from being fleshed out, in my mind it only enhances their history with each other.
Consider the way they’re filmed when they’re involved in the same scenes: almost always in the same shot, rarely are they separated unless the scene calls for it. If it is Crockett thinking about or interacting with Isabella (Gong Li), or Tubbs worrying about the fate of his girlfriend and coworker, Trudy (Naomi Harris), they are shot separately. But in the moments where the job is top of mind, they are exclusively framed together: