Customer Review

52 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great movie for those who like a certain rarified reality over cinema conventionality, February 4, 2007
This review is from: Miami Vice (Unrated Director's Cut) (DVD)
Two things that crack me up in reading reviews of this movie are: 1) when folks point out all the "unrealistic" things in the movie, and 2) when folks point out how silly it is that Tubbs and Crocket are so somber and serious. Among other things, buying this dvd gets you fantastic extras, including two minimovies on the realism (basically, how millions of dollars and months of preproduction were spent copying things exactly), plus a full length commentary by Michael Mann, which is the best commentary I've ever heard for a movie. You learn that the script was basically written after extensive interviews with undercover DEA agents and professional informants. Yes, some DEA and FBI stuff gets laid on Crockett and Tubbs (who, technically, are Miami Vice) but for those who think the whole thing is an elaborate fantasy and that only "The Wire" tells you how reality works, you should know that almost everything is based on fact down to the tiniest detail. In fact, one of the reason Crockett and Tubbs are so somber and serious and have so little to say (no donut jokes) is that they spent months shadowing the guys who really do this and they modeled their performances on how these guys really are. It's a very intense and edgy thing to be undercover, and the guys who are the deepest really are flying planes and making deals in foreign countries all on their own with no backup and with crime syndicates doing extensive background checks on them.

The movie will obviously disappoint anyone looking for a conventional narrative. We don't have an obvious story arc, and the audience is expected to figure out what's going on without lots of repetition. (For example, the reason they're undercover is because of a leak in the Federal command superstructure, but if you were munching on your popcorn for that line, you're out of luck.) I saw the movie in the theater and on dvd, and I actually preferred the dvd, because I could catch lines that were inaudible in the theater. If there's one complaint I have about the film, it's that Gong Li can be very hard to understand. That said, Mann's commentary taught me that some of the key players in this world are multilingual and aren't necessarily speaking their native language. Again, something that seems like a Hollywood mistake ("they got an actress who can't pronounce English") may not be off the mark.

What this movie succeeds in doing, beyond any movie I've seen, is to make you feel like you're actually there. Mann's pioneering work in filming at night, plus his breakthrough work in aerial filming, go to places film has never been before. In addition, he doesn't use many "effects." When a car is shot up by a canon-rifle, you're watching it really happen. So you actually feel like you're at a nighttime drug buy, or along the Miami river, or in speedboat, or in Havana. On a side note, a number of reviewers have mentioned how unrealistic it is that Crocket just drives his boat to Havana. Listen to Mann's commentary: that really is Colin Farrell driving that speedboat 70 miles an hour off the tip of Florida, which would take him less than 80 minutes to get to Havana. Again, it seems like viewers don't want to feel like they're actually there because they think they're being duped. But it's like they're used to what counts as "this is real" from movies. The same people probably thought "Traffic" was realistic, when it was a great example of Hollywood's "realism" which is often cliche in itself [hand held cameras, melodramatic acting, tragic figures -- "oh this is the street!"].

A fantastic dvd to buy, which amazing extras, a cinematic experience that feels new every time I watch it, and a compelling film that challenges the audience to do the thinking.

P.S. For those who wonder what "director's cut" means, Mann has really only added a few minutes of footage. To me, it smoothes out the beginning and the end, but you may not even notice.
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N. Caine

Location: San Diego, CA

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