Friday, January 26, 2007

Miami Vice, L'Intrus, V for Vendetta

Remember the Colin Farrell who stole scenes from Tom Cruise in Minority Report? What happened to that guy? He doesn't show up in Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann) [38], but then, that's really the least of the film's problems. Ostensibly based on the TV show (which I never saw), the feature version is so bland, so lacking in distinction, it may as well be called Drug Bust!. We know the Mann m.o.: men who define themselves by their work, who have to define themselves that way because the world they live in is slippery, amorphous, and only they can bring meaning to it, while the whole package is delivered with operatic brio. This was best demonstrated by Heat, where his Dostoevskyian universe felt grounded in everyday banal reality, the grand philosophical crises of cops and robbers undercut, as in the famous robbery sequence, by the dull clack-clack-clack of gunfire.

But where Heat had actual characters to organize this worldview around, here he has department store mannequins named Sonny and Rico, and the drama required to bring his m.o. in focus is replaced by hot air and testosterone. Most scenes are standard issue my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours confrontations between our undercover heroes and drug lords, whose trust they want to earn. But there never feels like there's anything at stake. There's a middle-section romance between Sonny and Gong Li's assistant drug lord or whatever she's supposed to be, and we're expected to care because... why? They have hot monkey sex? All that's left is the visuals, which have been bafflingly heralded in most quarters. At the risk of sounding like A----- W----, I can't help but think this approval boils down to "Oooh, pink sky! I've seen that in real life!"

While there's nothing wrong with appreciating Miami Vice as a series of abstract images, it doesn't really hold up, because there's still an underlying reliance on Hollywood conventions of structure and closure. Had Mann really jumped in with both feet, Drug Bust! could've looked a bit like L'Intrus (The Intruder) (2006, Claire Denis) [70], a spy tale at turns haunting and frustrating. The story, as far as I can tell, is about Louis, an old man living in Switzerland, who is actually a Russian spy. His heart is going out on him, so he retires and arranges to have a heart transplant and, with a new lease on life, attempts to regain ahold of the past that slipped away from him while he was a spy. I think. The film is fragmented and impressionistic, so that summary is possibly full of errors -- and I've seen it twice.

(I want to pause to note that the first time I saw it was in a theater, and near the end, there was a projection problem, and the image started to darken, very slowly, over the course of ten minutes. Despite this, I was always enthralled, and if Louis' problem had been glaucoma, I'd never even known there was something wrong.)

Still, the plot is somewhat secondary. It's the succession of images that enthrall: a baby's smiling face, a dog chewing on a human heart, the black ocean, the oppressive weight and hugeness of a steam ship contrasted with floating ribbons dispersed in its honor. Between this and the monolithic score by the Tindersticks, the film creates a wonderfully oneiric mood, where the distinction between reality, memory, and dream dissolve. Yet this is also the source of my frustrations; at times, it's so cryptic, that it can feel like the movie is drifting off without you. The ending is particularly irritating -- no summation, no resolution, it just disperses the way it floated in. (Does this make me a hypocrite w/r/t my problems with Miami Vice? Then so be it.)

However, the emotional journey of Louis is never less than clear. Despite the occasional obfuscations, we discover just how isolated this old spy is, how pathetic his attempts are to engage with life again, not realizing that, despite his money, his connections, and his new heart, he is no longer the one in control. Louis returns to Tahiti to find the son he believes he has from a past affair (while essentially ignoring the one he has in Switzerland), and the people there play a trick on him. I can't decide if this trick is cruel or hopeful, but it definitely comes out of pity.

A few quick notes about V for Vendetta (2006, James McTeigue) [57]: 1. No, not as good as the comic. 2. Yes, it's been dumbed down, most egregiously in presenting V as an uncomplicated hero, where Moore always viewed him with some suspicion. 3. The direction is pretty clumsy -- repeating Evey's childhood trauma in the present, with the same exact camera setups comes across as comical, and the hectic opening, cramming too much in fifteen minutes, makes the film feel shallower than it actually is. 4. However, a few moments make their way from the comic more-or-less unchanged, like Evey's interrogation, Valerie's letter, and V's confrontation with the doctor, and the movie is stronger for it. 5. Still, I was shocked by how moved I was by the final sequence, invented for the film, where the army of Vs take off their masks, and some are revealed to be characters who had died earlier -- the one moment of fanciful unreality in a film that takes itself way too seriously.


Steve said...

Even though I actively disliked V for Vendetta, I admit that the mask-finale was pretty faboo.

So when do the baby pictures start coming out?

(First comment, bitches!)

Kza said...

Actually, the "new father" tag is a little premature, but really, any day now.

socialretard said...

I'm not smarter than you. Not about movies, anyway. Beer and death/black metal...yes.

Kza said...

Bah humbug. Nonetheless, you need to be schoolin' me on the death metal tip. Young minds crave knowledge!

Scott W. Black said...

You're wrong about "Vice" (and Bryant Frazer is right), but I certainly respect your opinion and am very happy to see that you're doing some film blogging again. Hopefully you will keep it up. :-)

Scott W. Black said...

P.S.: [movie pedant]it's Colin Farrell, not Ferrell.[/movie pedant] :-)

Kza said...

Thanks -- corrected. And getting names right is never pedantic :-)