Wednesday, August 11, 2004


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 August 2004 at Loews Harvard Square #1 (first-run)

That Michael Mann has directed only eight features in his career isn't exactly surprising; a new Mann film is something to get excited about in part because it's not an annual event, and he's spent some time producing TV in the meantime. Sitting down to watch Collateral, though, I thought that a greater chunk of that oeurve had been in the "L.A. crime story" subgenre, since he seems to fit this movie like a glove. Makes me realize just how definitive Heat was.

Collateral is straight-ahead with its set-up: Vincent (Tom Cruise) and Max (Jamie Foxx) are both consummate professionals. It's somewhat amusing in Max; he's a cab driver with probably the neatest taxi in Los Angeles and the best knowledge of the city's geography, but it impresses Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), an U.S. Attorney who gives him her cards and says to call her sometime. Vincent, on the other hand, is a hired killer who climbs into Max's cab right after he drops Annie at her stop. Max finds out about Vincent's line of work when a body flies out a window and lands on his roof. From that point forward, Max is basically held hostage as Vincent goes after his four remaining targets, trying to figure out a way to escape the situation alive without getting anyone else killed.

It's a measure of how well Mann sucks the audience into this movie's world that a number of questionable points about the script didn't strike me as unlikely until afterward. Take that first victim, for instance. I just now started wondering about the physics where a bullet packed enough force to drag him through a closed window and far enough out into the alley to land square on top of Max's cab. The guy'd have to be in midair to avoid being stopped when his legs hit the wall below the window, at the very least. Mann probably did well to avoid actually showing us the scene.

It would also seem that as soon as Max knew what Vincent was up to, he'd become a liability for Vincent to eliminate, moving on to the next cab. But then, not only would there be no movie, but the characters would be less interesting. Cruise plays Vincent as a charming sociopath, fully capable of genuine appreciation and respect for his victims, but with no qualms about removing the from the world. He seems to like Max, but that doesn't mean Max will live to see tomorrow.

Jamie Foxx's performance as Max certainly makes me less terrified of him playing Ray Charles later this year (not that Foxx has ever struck me as a bad actor, just that he'd often seemed unexceptional). He's got the more convential character - nice guy, gets in over his head and gets scared, eventually finds a hidden reservoir of strength (thanks, in part, to the villain pointing out his shortcomings). He makes a nice everyman, and in a movie like this, it's something of an accomplishment to make Max not particularly special. We can see ourself in Max because he reacts to peril the way most of us would, and the movie would lose us if at any point we said, hey, I don't think the average guy would react that way. He's not Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, with a mind as sharp as his adversery's, but a guy with the deck almost hopelessly stacked against him.

The rest of the cast is high-quality, considering this movie is the Tom-and-Jamie show and everyone else is pushed to the side. Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Irma P. Hall, Javier Bardem and Bruce McGill (one of my all-time favorite "That Guys") fill smaller roles, and Barry Shabaka Henley (late of Mann's Robbery Homicide Division TV series) has a nice featured part.

The film looks like RHD, too - Mann and his cinematographers do like their grain. It's sometimes a little excessive, like something I have to look through rather than a natural part of a picture, but that's the only complaint. They've got a knack for finding a way to make L.A. fit both Vincent's and Max's perceptions - Vincent finds that city to be a sterile concrete wasteland, but to Max it's home and has its own beauty - in the same shot. They also choose their locations well; I get a sense that the script was written (or re-written) with certain spots in mind.

Michael Mann's made a good movie here, one that makes the most of its stars and generates some good tension; a quality thriller.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice blog and interesting review.