While the show is remembered for stylish pastels and trendy music, the "underlying theme of the series is the 'whack-a-mole' reality of drug cartels, as the detectives bring down one cartel there are several new ones to replace them." While I couldn't have articulated it at the time, this overwhelming hopelessness resonated with something I felt instinctually, almost genetically. Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs knew they were foot soldiers fighting meaningless skirmishes in a war that could not be won.
But they never quit.
In 2006 director Michael Mann, who had been the executive producer of the TV series, released a Miami Vice movie, creating a world in which words were weapons and weapons were tools. His heroes were men and women defined completely by their missions as they moved through threatening and vast spaces. Watching it, I felt like the walls had been knocked off the world. Only last year did I learn that Mann had purposefully created this sensation with a special camera. From the New York Times review, which named Miami Vice one of the best movies of 2006:
Partly shot using a Viper FilmStream camera, the film shows us a world that seems to stretch on forever, without the standard sense of graphical perspective. When Crockett and Tubbs stand on a Miami roof, it’s as if the world were visible in its entirety, as if all our familiar time-and-space coordinates had dropped away, because they have.
The film isn't only popular with the New York Times and me. Independent Weekly named it the best film of 2006. Rolling Stone gave it three and a half stars and wrote, "what raises this ball of fire above the herd is the haunting sense of loss and loneliness Mann brings to material that feels lived in and achingly real."
The film does less well with the general public. Rolling Stone readers gave it only two and a half stars. And while the Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes give Miami Vice a 68%, it's community score is only 47%.
One of the movie's stars, Colin Farrell, recently admitted that he "didn't like it so much." That's a shame. He was a great Sonny Crockett, his eyes constantly darting back and forth, his arms held away from his body as if he was trying to make himself appear bigger and more dangerous than he felt inside. He's a cobra vainly hoping that an open hood might scare off a tidal wave.
The movie also features Michael Mann's trademark attention to detail. The guns, cars and airplanes were meticulously chosen and learning about them adds insight into the characters' motivations. (Go Google "SVI Tiki" for a taste of what I am talking about.) The actors underwent extensive training for their roles. Advisors on the film even tricked Ferrell into believing he had gotten himself in the middle of an actual drug buy, just to see if he was able to keep calm. The event was captured on hidden camera and included in the DVD extras. (I wouldn't say Ferrell stayed ice cold, but he didn't break down in tears either.)
In Miami Vice and at least two other Mann films, the main characters remind each other that time is luck. Crockett and Tubbs know life is transient and perhaps futile. They are surrounded by money, women and gorgeous oceans that all might lead to the possibility of a more peaceful existence. And yet over and over they choose to turn away from the horizon and throw themselves into the fire.
I am 36. I still have heroes.