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"Edgy, suspenseful, and irresistible, the film leaves quite an impression."
"When it comes to dialogue, this is a masterful effort, demonstrating how the right words can provide the basis for great storytelling."
"A brilliant example of great characters and conversation."
Collateral  

Cast

Vincent: Tom Cruise
Max: Jamie Foxx
Annie: Jada Pinkett Smith
Fanning: Mark Ruffalo
Richard Weidner: Peter Berg
Pedrosa: Bruce McGill
Ida: Irma P. Hall
Felix: Javier Bardem
Review August 2004

Welcome to the jungle, an urban playground where jazz meets rock n' roll, simplicity collides with sophistication, and routine is far from boring. This is the dark and mysterious side of Los Angeles, a city that becomes an integral character in Michael Mann's electrifying crime thriller, "Collateral." Starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, the film transpires over the course of one fateful night, where two characters from different backgrounds make a series of visits across town. One is a taxi driver and the other is his fare, a hit man out to eliminate five witnesses. Edgy, suspenseful, and irresistible, the film leaves quite an impression. Its ingenious dialogue, gritty performances, and groundbreaking cinematography make "Collateral" an expertly crafted film without default.

Max has been in Los Angeles for nine years struggling to make it as a writer. Working as a taxi driver for end's meat, he aspires to own his own limousine service in a tropical locale. One day, on a routine stop, Max picks up Annie, a beautiful and down to earth attorney who confides in Max after a friendly bet. But rather than ask for her number, Max allows the opportunity to pass him by. Or so he thinks. Shortly after exiting the cab, Annie returns and hands him a business card with her number on it. His luck is changing. And just when things couldn't get any better, a well dressed older man enters Max's cab, offering to pay him $600 if he will take him to five different stops during the night. Although not a standard practice, it's an offer Max simply can't refuse.

On the first stop, Vincent tells Max to wait for him in a nearby alley. But before Max can get a bite of his sandwich, a man crashes down on the top of his cab. Within seconds, Vincent appears. And it is here, where Max realizes Vincent's occupation has little to do with real estate or visiting friends. With a gun to his head, Max is unable to escape, forced to finish the rounds. But maybe he can hinder Vincent's plans? As the two make stops from luxury apartments to jazz clubs to dance halls, they are pursued by two, hip LA police officers, Fanning and Weidner, who stumble upon each crime scene. Linking the deaths to an offshore drug cartel, the cops discover that there is a contract killer on the loose named Vincent attempting to eliminate five key witnesses. The cops close in, but not before Max and Vincent get separated. And their separation occurs right before the remaining stop - one that brings Max to a familiar face.

"Collateral" is an exquisite character study of two men with different values, attitudes, and goals, who are brought together by coincidence and uniquely transformed. When Vincent first steps into the cab, Max is attracted and overly curious. Here's an affluent man exuding confidence and intellect that Max aspires to be. And Vincent, in turn, respects Max as a blue-collar worker struggling to make a living and one who still chases his dreams. But once Vincent's true colors emerge, their relationship and characteristics change like the taxi's overall appearance. "What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?" Vincent reacts after Max questions his relationship with the victim. In observing Vincent's behavior, his defiance against Max's boss, his sweet demeanor towards his mother, and his collectiveness under stress, Max becomes more confident and proactive. In turn, Vincent becomes vulnerable and a little sentimental, unable to kill Max, despite repeated efforts to sabotage the mission.

Written by Stuart Beattie, the film works to perfection because of its predication on dialogue. In a long running conversation between contract killer and cabbie, we learn about Max and Vincent in ways that do not require action. And we learn about them indirectly, without the need for long, elaborate details. For instance, once Vincent appears, we immediately feel the absence of his father, comprehend the emptiness of his childhood, and identify with a lonely man in an unforgiving city. The same can be said for Max, who knows his way around LA with ease, but is frustrated with his failed career attempts, the pursuit of his dreams, and the inability to go after what he wants in life. Such emotion is transparent because of carefully chosen words like "adapt," "temporary," and "cool." In fact, in one of the film's most sincere and heartbreaking moments, we experience the regret and disappointment of a jazz musician (Barry Shabaka Henley) after a chance encounter with the cool Miles Davis. When it comes to dialogue, this is a masterful effort, demonstrating how the right words can provide the basis for great storytelling.

Whether intentional or not, much of the film is wickedly funny as Tom Cruise's pretty boy image is discarded in place of a sadistic killer. It's not that Cruise is funny as much as his action and intensity are so shocking that we laugh in self-defense. Cruise is exceptional as a villain, steely gray hair and all. And it is his ability to give us a sense of Vincent's past, through the dialogue and his attitude that we can feel. Equally compelling is Jamie Foxx, an actor who first broke out of the comedic roles as the rookie quarterback in Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday." Simply put, Foxx has the talent to become one of the most impressive actors of this generation. In "Collateral," he does not dive into slapstick characters from "In Living Color" nor does he play Max as a stereotype. Foxx plays it serious. He's nervous and scared, he's embarrassed around his mother, and he's fallible. And we, as an audience, react in shock, smile and laugh at his discomfort, and sympathize with him every step of the way. [Note: Keep an eye on Foxx, whose performance as Ray Charles in the upcoming "Ray" may turn out to be Academy worthy.]

Director Michael Mann, known for such moody works as "The Insider" and "Heat," has created an atmospheric world of stark light and shadow. Contrasting the hustle and bustle of the daytime with the isolation and solitude of the darkness, Mann makes Los Angeles look beautiful and haunting at the same time. Taking place between the hours of 6 p.m. and 4 a.m., the film occurs almost entirely at nighttime. Thus, to pick up the vibrant patterns of light and dark hidden to the naked eye, Mann chose to shoot nearly 90% of the film on high definition video. This brilliant touch, accentuated by the work of cinematographers Paul Cameron and Dion Beebe, makes the city come alive. With neon and city streetlights casting a unique translucence, Los Angeles turns into a sexy, scary, and shadowy place, where anything can happen, even a strange encounter with a pack of coyotes.

The film's only misstep is that it turns to formula when it should be exploding with abrupt dramatics and wordplay. After a fascinating exploration of character boundaries, Mann avoids confrontation and explanation by wrapping things up with a chase sequence. This requires very little dialogue and is very disappointing when you consider how potent the first three quarters of the film are set up. In the end, a damsel in distress is pursued by an assassin to the highest point of her ivory tower and a knight in shining armor must come and rescue her. It's clich?d and conventional, but still finds a way to come full circle with Vincent's character in a satisfactory manner.

"Collateral" is a brilliant example of great characters and conversation. Under the direction of Michael Mann, the film depicts a Los Angeles like never before seen. Dark, moody, and rich with diverse sound and imagery, the environment becomes its own character. And it becomes an effective backdrop for two characters looking to discover their inner Chi. Balancing the terrific chemistry of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx with the terrific dialogue of Stuart Beattie and the terrific camera work of Cameron and Beebe, "Collateral" maintains a rough and frenetic pace. And even though its ending may adhere to form, you still get to see Tom Cruise with gray hair. You get to see him as a bad guy doing bad things. And you have to admit, it's pretty cool.



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