Directed By: George Armitage
Screenplay By: George Armitage
Based upon the novel by Charles Willeford
Produced By: Gary Goetzman, Jonathan Demme
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes
Review Date: December 10, 2010
Miami Blues is a movie about a petty thief (Alec Baldwin) who tries to get by in the sun drenched stretches of Miami. There are no “grand schemes” or elaborate robberies, but instead instances of pick-pocketing and loafing. He is a black sheep, a coy manipulator of sorts, and a man who holds no qualms when it comes to pulling the trigger. He goes by many names, but the one his mother tagged him with is Fred Frenger.
Fred is smooth with a cunning sense of style, never leaving home without a fresh pair of sunglasses and a gun at his hip. He takes no names either, portrayed by an excellent scene at the start of the film. When he lands in Miami, a Hare Krishna asks him what his named is. He responds, “Trouble,” but not before snapping the man’s wrist and inducing an epileptic seizure. I always love these carefree, suave criminal types. They are an overused archetype, but Alec Baldwin really invigorates the character with his bare approach to it. He is the type of bad guy we can root for because, despite the swaths of damage he cuts across the city, he’s just much cooler than everyone else.
When he invites a hooker to his hotel room, it just had to be the kind with a “Heart of Gold.” It’s another void of the crime thriller (At least the dry, dark humor type) but the hooker, named Susie Waggoner, is kept fresh and alive by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s portrayal. She’s a bubbly, doting woman who immediately drops her philandering ways when Frank proposes to her after their first encounter. It has the essence of “Bonnie and Clyde,” but although Susie condones some of the violence, she never partakes in it. She’s just an “innocent” girl who fell for the “Bad Guy.”
Sgt. Hoke Moseley (a fantastic Fred Ward) follows Frank’s trail from the airport to the new apartment he inhabits with Susie. Moseley, upon arriving to their place, knows that Frank was the culprit from the moment he lays eyes on him. Frank can feel this, but no evidence means no cuffs. Still, Frank wastes no time in beating Moseley unconscious and stealing his identity. The film’s slogan is “Real gun. Real badge. Fake cop” and it is here that we find the films best and most comedic moments. Baldwin is absolutely hilarious when he holds up a drug peddling body builder only to cuff him to a post and run off with his marijuana.
It isn’t long before Moseley comes to and makes it his personal vendetta to stop the elusive criminal at any cost. His chase leads him to a final standoff which should be among the greats, but only a select few people have actually seen this film. I’m sure that director George Armitage’s Lo-Fi approach to this film was its greatest setback for most, but for me, it was its greatest asset. I’m a huge fan of handheld, almost sloppy cinematography. It allows the film to be less stringent, to be looser and more adaptable. It gives the film more of an improvisational vibe, which in turn renders the characters more believable.
I truly enjoyed this film. I really have no idea why it wasn’t a smash hit, as I found myself gaping in awe and laughing boisterously in equal measure. I cannot think of any reason to not recommend this film, though I will note that those squeamish to violence may want to steer clear. Those of you that can handle a little bit of blood, enjoy.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.