Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bye, bye blackbird

The theatrical version of Miami Vice, upon first viewing, is a bit of a disappointment when you stack it up against Mann's previous film Collateral. Unlike Collateral, Mann opted to release a director's cut. He is known for these director editions. Peviously releasing them for Thief, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans and Ali. In hindsight, Miami Vice: The Director's Cut is a film that will reward viewers after several viewings. Once you start to realize that it's more content- based as opposed to character based. Therein lies my problem with Vice in the first place- character development. This is a thread that carries on into his work on Public Enemies.

After leaving the theater after seeing Public Enemies, I did not feel the same way when I saw Collateral, Heat or The Insider for the first time. Mann had so many great collaborators working on this one. What got me watering at the mouth was how it almost mimicked Heat in terms of collaboration. There was Dante Spinotti on photography (finally teaming up with Mann since The Insider) and Elliot Goldenthal composing the score. Then you had the two big name actors: Johnny Depp & Christian Bale together in a film for the first time. Their meeting in the jail cell brought back to mind Vince & Neil's meeting in the coffee shop. In fact, this movie echoes some of the same themes he presented in Heat. That's not a bad thing, but I feel it was done better in that film.

My big complaint on Mann's current visual aesthetic is not so much the fact that he's using digital, but how he's using it. The issue with this is: Why use digital to create such a "You are there" type of look when the viewer is not invested enough into the characters. What hinders Public Enemies is Mann's choice of sacrificing character development in order to get to a string of highlights and action sequences. You almost have to come in after having researched Dillinger to enjoy this movie.

Looking back at Heat, even a character as small as the getaway driver played by Dennis Haysbert is given scenes to strengthen the development of his character. That type of development is absent in both Vice and Enemies. I am longing for another great character moment from Mann's repertiore. Characters like Jeffrey Wigand, Vincent, Neil McAuley, and even a Frank from Thief.

Alas, there was no director's cut of this movie. Right now it sits near the bottom of Mann's catalog. I was honestly quite bored watching it for the 2nd time. Mann is currently shooting the TV film Luck with Dustin Hoffman and airs on HBO in 2011. One can hope that this is a rebound or at least gives him a burst of creative energy to tackle his next theatrical project with a fresh new way of telling a story.

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