There’s an interview out there somewhere where Michael Mann is forced to make a comparison between his film Thief (1981) and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). Mann wearily explains that Thief is film about the individual’s inability to follow his own professional path is the face of a giant monopoly, regardless of the neon lights and stylised fonts. That’s why he had it scored by Tangerine Dream – so you could realise that there was something larger at play.
By implication, Drive is only the fonts and lights. The comparison is superficial.
Miami Vice is a film about purple skies, fleeting moments caught on video…and the inability of an individual to maintain his self in the face of absolute love. You can dress it up and vulgar auteurise this film all you want, but it’s really only a love story. Love is overwhelming. It destroys existing ethics, personality, purpose. It becomes an obsession, a little thought crawling inside your mind; denying the carefully constructed persona that once defined a life.
Mann captures this love in glimpses. They’re breath-taking when you realise that these stolen moments reveal an inner rush of compassion and desire. Was she looking at me? What was she thinking when she did? When you are forced to lie in your life (and we’re all under-cover to a greater or lesser extent, presenting a false reality to the world) these looks become everything. The only moment of reality in a suffocating pool of deceit. Dancing. Beautiful, intimate, physical. Their hands grip and grasp and dance across the surface of their skin. Crockett and Isabella smile and move in and out of each other’s eye-lines. No one knows just how serious their love is – everyone else is believing their lies – except Trudy, who watched them from a bar stool. Only she sees what truly is going on. The power of glimpses.
It’s easy not to see the love story. There’s plenty else to watch. Mann is in full flow here. Digital video bringing an immediacy to the proceedings; cameras sweeping off people’s shoulders, blood splattered on the lense. Colours become abstracted. The violence of the opening moments of the film, uncertainty of where we are and where we’re going. Conservative music choices rubbing up against the briefest suggestion of contemporary culture. Actors from all over the world attempting various iterations of unrecognisable American accents. Scripts changed to accommodate the brutality of the real world. There’s plenty to look at, but don’t miss those stolen moments.
No matter how true the love is, it’s foundations are weak. Built on the lie of an assumed identity, there is no ever-after. There is nothing to say to each other, because the hopelessness of never seeing each other again reveals that this time will soon exist only as a weathered and crumbling memory. Isabella leaves Crockett. And he watches her, trying to amass as many memories as possible. He turns away, and back to her, and away again, knowing true love isn’t forever. Sometimes it’s just a moment. A glimpse. A glimmer of truth.
…I can’t maintain it any more. I love this film in a way that makes it a secret. Like it’s too risky to tell others just how much it means to me. That I watch it once a year. That every viewing reveals something new. That I pray for looks like the one in the movie.