MIAMI VICE (U.S. / 2006)
Despite all the reservations that people (including filmmakers) have regarding the use of digital and high-definition video, this format has the potential of becoming the most effective mechanism for portraying emotional and physical vacuity on-screen. While Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke and his DP Yu Lik-Wai have set the standard with their employment of HD in The World (2004) and Still Life (2006), Michael Mann and his partner-in-crime Dion Beebe have done their very best to achieve similar results with Collateral (2004), and now, Miami Vice.
The long, overhead shots in Collateral ultimately never quite coalesced with the characters that mightve been physically displaced, but their lack of depth prevented them from being emotionally so as well. And thus, unlike Heat (1995), Manns best film so far, his existential yearnings didnt have a base to exist on. The characters in Miami Vice may not be much deeper, but they are, or at least seem, tangible, and thats due to the directors exquisite formal schemes. In the film, Manns camera often glides in and around the action, instead of simply hovering on top; and hes been able to discover a certain level of intimacy between him and his actors thats required for what he wants to accomplish. While the delineation -- not to mention the rich black skin -- of both Jamie Fox and Naomi Harris, who are more than just fellow vice cops in the film, shines through even in the glory of digital grain, Mann finds his marker with the films other, much more enigmatic couple. The pale, colorless skin of a brilliant Gong Li -- finally a femme-fatale who looks and acts unconventionally -- might be the primary reason behind her ghost-like mien, but Mann only accentuates her ordeal by providing her with someone similar: Colin Farrell, who can hold the screen as well as any actor working today. They fall hard and fast, and Manns resolutely empty mise-en-scne intelligibly deciphers what comes next -- which is somber enough to draw an errant tear, much like Gongs.
Also, Beebes HD palette which is mostly comprised of shadowy blacks and greys, not only provides a greater degree of verisimilitude to the action, it also imbues the characters with said exigence. What it cant do however is to provide them with a life beyond the frame. Unlike Heat, where even the bit players were memorable, Miami Vice features a few too many individuals who lack the proper depth and scope. And thats partially because Mann once again attempts to set a foot outside the genre parameters, not quite recognizing that he must draw his characters within them in order to elevate them; his tangential forays into "reality" have a tendency to feel a tad self-conscious. (The bullets in the films eventual, rather low-key shoot-out might sound real, but the much-hyped pre-production research into the lives of undercover men that Mann conducted ultimately plays second fiddle to, what else, his images.) Hopefully hell find a common ground one day, but perhaps for now, as Cyril Neyrat of "Cahiers du cinma" stated, "[Miami Vice] belongs to those that would require two viewings. The first, to make a list of its disappointed expectations and weaknesses, and the second, to attend to what it does do: exploit the aesthetic possibilities of high definition and to draw all the consequences for the narrative. Then the weaknesses are changed into hypotheses, undoubtedly fragile but unfailingly innovative, of a new regime of the visible, generating a new kind of action film."
*The film will be available on DVD in early December.