If this had been the first Michael Mann movie I’d seen, I would have thought it was a close-to-perfect atmospheric thrillah, but I’ve seen Heat, so I know better. Here, as in Heat, Collateral, The Insider, and pretty much everything else Mann touches, we get two layers: the action-packed surface of fancy guns, cars, planes, helicopters, guns, boats, sunglasses, clubs, guns, cars, and guns; and the pseudo-literary layer wherein one of the good guys teeters on the edge of badness and/or vice-versa.
I’ve never been able to get into this narrative of the good guy who gets so deep into his fight against the bad guy that he almost becomes him. George Smiley‘s purported and extended anguish along these lines, for example, always made me feel merely impatient.
I could stand this in Heat, I think, because it was such a perfect apotheosis of the theme, and because DeNiro and Pacino played their yin-yang yo-yo parts so perfectly. But Colin Ferrell is no Robert DeNiro, my friend. The only real grit this movie has, its only possible claim to significance beyond mere summer shoot-’em-up, lies in Ferrell’s confusion over how and whether to bust the drug lordess he’s fallen for, and frankly, it’s almost impossible to give a shit about his quandary, because it seems patently absurd from start to finish. Vastly talented and experienced undercover vice cop melts like a fourteen year old when a pretty girl on the other team catches his eye? It just doesn’t make sense.
OK, but whatever, this is still, even with Farrell’s ridiculousness and the shameful underuse of Jamie Foxx, a thousand times more interesting to watch than the typical summer blockbuster. Mann does fantastic sex scenes–the one with Pacino and Diane Venora at the beginning of Heat was excellent, but the one with Foxx and Trudy Joplin here is better, and the one in Havana with Ferrell and Li Gong is even better than that–and he shoots every scene like a sex scene, so close up you can’t quite tell what’s happening, or from a little too far away, with the interesting thing happening off to one side, out of the corner of your eye.
A worthy contribution, though not a masterpiece, from my second-favorite sixty-something brooding Hollywood would-be Calvinist.
(Paul Schrader, of course. Duh.)