Noel O'Shea

Digitally-Captured Criminals: Demolishing Cinematic Spaces in the Search for the Self in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice

Year: 2014

Keywords: , , , , ,


University of Limerick
(at time of presentation)

Personal profile:

Structured PhD candidate in New Media & Film (Fourth Year). I am studying the changes in genre cinema, particularly the more affective genres of horror and the thriller, resulting from the use of digital cameras instead of film to capture the film’s images. I posit a changing relationship between film text and spectator based on the digitally captured genre film’s enunciation of screen realism.


Text of 'Digitally Captured Criminals' (pdf)

Slides of 'Digitally Captured Criminals' (powerpoint)

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While classical thrillers have traditionally posited two separate cinematic spaces in a relationship played out as conflict between characters on opposing sides of the law, Michael Mann’s digital genre films collapse these spaces down into an internal battle of characters grappling with the maintenance of a single self. Reflecting a postmodern world of social disintegration, Miami Vice (2006) deals with disciplined, professional men struggling to align their own personal codes of masculinity with an increasingly indifferent urban environment. For these obsessive men betrayal of self is the ultimate crime; but commitment to their codes brings with it an unavoidable erosion of self and Other. While these male professionals work hard to maintain self-ownership, Mann’s mise-en-scène places them, crucially, against highly stylised, often hyperreal backgrounds, aesthetically denying them their stable male identity and working to position them outside of normal relationships and society as a whole. In fact, the digital aesthetic on show in Miami Vice throws the crime thriller’s classical spaces built from the city’s shadows and light into hyper-relief, essentially collapsing the generically motivated cinematic spaces in favour of a mise-en-scène that privileges the screen’s surface as an abstract, unreal space where identity is configured.

Although Mann throws his characters into cinematic worlds of vast, quasi-infinite spatial textures – perhaps too vast for the spatial conventions of classical crime films to contain the Mann men – Miami Vice nonetheless allows the viewer to contemplate its relationship with earlier crime genre cinema. The film evoking a mood of nostalgia on the part of its unstable male protagonists – a longing for an identity that could only be satisfied if they perhaps stalked the hallways of a classical Hawks rather than floating through the neon-lit infinities of a modernist Mann.