Well, I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord.
-Phil Collins, “In The Air Tonight”
I’m in, Boeing jets, Global Express
Out the country but the Blueberry still connect.
The opening sentences of Michael Mann’s screenplay for Miami Vice (2006) are perhaps the most on point description of Mann’s kinetic and introspective form of filmmaking. And yet, when a contemporary audience watched this remake of the popular 1980s/1990s television series in cinemas in 2006, the rumbling catamarans of the screenplay were nowhere to be seen. Instead, another kind of roar rocketed at the audience.
The in media res opening of the Miami Vice theatrical cut replaces horsepower for decibels. It situates us in a packed Miami nightclub where an undercover mission undertaken by vice detectives Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) is soundtracked by the astronomical 2004 hit “Numb/Encore”. This brilliantly executed crossover tune by American rapper JAY-Z and rock band Linkin Park formed its own kind of delicate interface between hip-hop and nu metal, back then the two most prominent and potent musical alternatives to mainstream pop.
Remembering films like Thief (1981), Manhunter (1986), Heat (1995) and Ali (2001), Mann has always had a penchant to score his noir-influenced (crime) epics with melodramatic music, employing the moody synthesizers of Tangerine Dream, the introspective ambience of Brian Eno or the melancholic euphoria of Moby to convey the conflicted inner world of his troubled protagonists. The chilly synthesizers of Linkin Park’s “Numb”, combined with the rumbling bass and linguistic gymnastics of JAY-Z’s “Encore”, are perhaps the most striking addition to Mann’s musical repertoire – even if this very same film also features a nu metal take on Phil Collins iconic “In The Air Tonight.”
In many ways “Numb/Encore” is a Rosetta Stone to decode the intricacies of the Miami Vice remake, which is arguably Mann’s densest work to date. The contemporary nature of the soundtrack already reinforces the idea that Mann is not just paying lip service to fans of the original series. This is no mere pop culture nostalgia trip, but a sensitive and almost paranoid reflection on an increasingly networked world in which crime has globalised and digitised itself to a degree where it becomes virtually impossible to simply catch the bad guy. As Miami Vice ponders this brittle material reality of crime fighting in a world that’s rapidly shifting towards the ephemeral and digital, songs like “Numb/Encore” and “In The Air Tonight” almost take on the function of a chorus reflecting on the cobweb nature of contemporary culture.
It also makes sense that most of the music, including “Numb/Encore”, is presented here as diegetic: as Beatrice Loayza also notes in her appreciation of the intimate salsa dancing between Sonny Crocket and his romantic interest Isabella (Gong Li as the partner of the criminal mastermind), music is deployed in Miami Vice as a powerful tool to construct one’s identity. It’s a language one has to be fluent in to navigate the Miami nightlife, a cultural cloak to disappear in and an outlet for the rising tensions – both sexual and criminal – between Sonny and Isabella. As their romance inevitably ends in tragedy, the chorus of “Numb/Encore” even takes on an almost prophetic quality that underscores the emotional high wire act that lies at the centre of Miami Vice: “After me, there shall be no more. So for one last time, make some noise. What the hell are you waiting for?”