Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Miami Vice: Redux

I already reviewed it back in July, but I just watched the film again on DVD, and I've got to say, if you not have seen this movie, get the disc and watch it. It's on the level of The New World or Wong Kar-Wai in terms of using visuals and music to construct an incredible film narrative. Mann's world is a bit harsher than either Malick's or Wong's, but there are also moments of such incredible beauty.

Watching it on DVD, the DV photography looks even better, particularly in the city scenes, which are absolutely awe inspiring in their seemingly endless progression of lights. The camera moves in a fluid, very emotional way, never more so than in the sequences with Sonny and Isabella in Cuba. Starting with the phenomenal boat scene, we get one beautiful sequence after another, culminating in the shadowy, perfectly lit sex scene. I love the lighting throughout, stylish but not stylized. Mann finds the beauty in the world, rather than trying to bring something into it that's not there.

The skillful narrative construction is also more apparent on the revisit. He uses a lot of Soderbergh style multi-location cutting to convey information in the film's opening chunk, and similar work is done in the ending, giving us just enough to get to the emotional core of the story.

That core is the Isabella/Sonny relationship, and that makes the film. I love the scene in Jose's nightclub where they dance close, oblivious to the fact that this dance is putting them both in danger. It's just the two of them. The most heartbreaking moment in the film is the ending, Isabella on the boat, moving away from Sonny. Their eyes stay locked as she moves away, but when she's outside of sight, he turns away and goes back to his life. We then see her, still looking to the land. She turns around, and in that moment, she have given up everything she knows. The man she loves has ruined her life and now she's alone.

But, that's business. This thing happened between them, and then they must move on. In Mann's films, the personal is always sublimated to the professional, and nowhere is that pain more apparent than in those final moments. The music builds, Sonny walks into the hospital, he's back on the job and that brief escape into another identity is left as nothing but a dream.

This is an astonishingly beautiful film, and more than any other, makes a strong case for the potential superiority of digital to traditional film. But, it's not just the camera, it's what Mann does with it, allowing the visual landscapes to convey character emotion. When Sonny and Isabella are in the boat, he belts her in, then we move out to a wide, swooping helicopter shot following the boat in its smooth course over the water. I love the moment when he buckles her, we see her as a strong woman, not used to this kind of treatment, he's a bit too gruff, but they each appreciate the other. When he's returning from Cuba, the smooth waters are gone, it's rough and the boat hops over every wave, struggling to return.

Another shot I absolutely love is Isabella getting off the plane. Mann gives his people fantastic sunglasses, and Gong Li has never looked better than she does walking down that staircase towards Sonny. Their frazzled encounter in the back of the car after that tells us everything we need to know about their love, it's passionate, it's fast, and it can't last.

This film is a world you slip into. Yes, there's a story, but it's more about getting lost in the undercover world, the glamour and the dirt. In doing so, Mann makes unique use of the power of cinema not to tell a story, but to instead convey a feeling, and he does it incredibly well.

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