The Miami Vice movie did justice to the legacy of the television series, in general, and that of Sonny Crockett, in specific, paying both due homage.
Although some critics may have been less than impressed with this 2006 effort, and the general public possibly lukewarm, hardcore fans of the Miami Vice television series can find many things to like about the film. The movie stayed mostly true to the dramatic and action elements of the television series and expanded on those things with its big-time Hollywood budget.
Don Johnson’s detective character, Sonny Crockett, and his undercover alter ego, Sonny Burnett, were the heart and soul of television’s Miami Vice. Getting this right would be job one for the movie. Johnson’s portrayal was so cool and so right for the time that missing on this element of the movie would be a disaster. Additionally, Johnson’s Sonny Crockett was a really complex character. In fact, throughout much of television’s Miami Vice he was really down, completely down in the dumps, if not outright depressed.
At first blush, the Miami Vice movie and its Sonny Crockett, portrayed by Colin Farrell, was a disappointment. However, I have found that you have to give artists a chance to show you what they are doing. Over time, and after watching it a number of times, I have come to think that this movie got it right and is a fitting homage to the television series, everything that I hoped the movie would be. As well, Farrell’s Sonny Crockett, is, after repeated viewings, spot-on and just right, if not perfect, which is mighty difficult considering the iconic nature of the lasting character Don Johnson created that is Sonny Crockett.
The Miami Vice movie is serious and hard. The bad guys are dead-eyed, distant, unfeeling, mean-spirited, and full of malice. The good guys, Crockett, Ricardo Tubbs, and the gang, are pressed-upon and unsmiling. Deadly work is afoot here. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the television show and the movie. In the television series, Johnson’s Crockett had a wry sense of humor. His colleagues also frequently had their lighter moments. There were comedic interludes and characters such as Izzy, a goofball snitch. There was even Elvis, the alligator, in the earlier, much lighter, episodes. All of that is gone from the movie. In the film, there are very few smiles save ones full of doubt and malice.
In the television show, Philip Michael Thomas’ Ricardo Tubbs was laid back and cool. In the movie, Jamie Foxx’s Tubbs is super intense. The ladies in the television show, Trudy and Gina, have lesser roles in the movie. Gina was everyone’s sweetheart in the television show. In the movie, she is mainly an afterthought except for a pivotal scene in which she dispatches a Neo-Nazi, meth-head, in a trailer park meth lab after a short speech and some cryptic Crockett-like comments before pulling the trigger. Not exactly, “Surf’s up,” but the feeling is there. These things are a homage to the television show and the entire scene, featuring the no-nonsense Trudy being held captive in the trailer, is taken directly from probably the most intense episode of the entire television series.
There are other throwbacks to the television series that fans will note and find welcome. A love scene between Tubbs and Trudy; Crockett and Tubbs waiting things out in a tropical hotel; and the requisite go-fast boats on the Miami River, and in the Port of Miami, are all lifted right from of the television series.
Details also make the movie very interesting. Many of these are in throw away lines in the movie. Pay close attention to pick them up. They are the kind of thing that add authentic detail and are spoken of quickly in a matter of fact way. Talk of four, 500 horsepower, Mercury engines and a Deep V hull. Old jets being used as cargo haulers, Caravelles and 727s. The Tri Cities area, Ciudad del Este, of South America, where everything is for sale, from contraband like knock-off designer goods to a mechanic’s guarantee, all paid for in untraceable cash, taking advantage of the lax borders and equally lax law enforcement. The Angola-Cuba connection. Crockett’s father being an Atlanta musician which is a direct homage to Don Johnson himself and his friendship with Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band. There are also many references and sights familiar to fans of director Michael Mann’s work, not only in Miami Vice, but also in movies like Heat. Gun battles, helicopters over millions of lights of the city night, chasing down cars on the highway, and images from night vision equipment are right out of Heat.
While the core of the film turns around nefarious drug dealers and their trade, a basic premise of the television show, the subtext is also one that was visited time and again in the television show. That is one of Crockett getting in too deep, almost losing himself, getting his head turned, this time all the way to Havana, by a pretty face, and having to rely on Tubbs to pull him back from the brink of disaster. Though, in the movie, Crockett goes it more alone than ever before and the results are, as such, blurring the lines to a place well beyond the appearance of impropriety. Crockett says he knows what he is doing, but he is well beyond in too deep. One can only wonder about the ramifications of his material lapses in judgment that await him in his fictional future.
Farrell’s Sonny Crockett is not as down as was Johnson’s, but he is dead serious and somewhat mysterious. His long hair is common to the longest television’s Sonny ever let it fly and Farrell does Sonny justice by taking him to to a different level, his dark and brooding movie-star looks adding a deep and intense layer to the glamour and cool of television’s Sonny. Not everyone could do justice to the image of Sonny Crockett created by Don Johnson and make it his own the way Farrell does with Sonny in the film. Farrell manages to to completely capture the essence of Sonny as portrayed by Johnson, ups the intensity in keeping with the film, while making him still a different character that stands on his own. Farrell is really good as Sonny Crockett and, especially, Sonny Burnett.
You can almost get a whiff of the fumes coming off the hot engine covers of offshore power boats idling in the dark of night in the Miami Vice movie. The backwater canals, piers and docks of the Miami area were busy places of deadly business in the dark and wee hours of humid and highly illicit nights back in the day. Real life people met their demise in these nefarious comings and goings. It was the classic live fast, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.
In the end, Miami Vice is Sonny Crockett’s show regardless of whether he was played by Farrell or Johnson. He had many close calls, but he made it through okay, at least physically. Mentally and emotionally, could be a different story. Many of the lines in the film speak to the duality of the Crockett/Burnett conundrum. I know what I am doing. Beyond a bad idea. In so deep, you don’t know which way is up. Time is luck. In a poignant ending for impossible love, Isabella’s pleading and distraught realization that she’s been had, and her and Crockett’s ultimate and unhappy acceptance of their divided fates, fully encapsulate both the equation and summation. It is both the ultimate question that dogged Crockett/Burnett and the inscrutable, implicit answer that fails to define him/them. “Who are you?”