Dir. Michael Mann
119 min; Starring Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith
"You just met him once and you killed him like that?"
"What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?"
I liked Collateral a lot more than I thought I would. The fact that it's on my year end top ten says something. It's a stylish film, cut to clockwork perfection by director Michael Mann (Last of the Mohicans) who uses digital video to give us a beautiful view of nighttime Los Angeles. The DV gives the film a very intense look, particularily the way DV captures lights and slick streets at night. The film takes on a dreamlike, visceral quality. As a single night in LA unfolds and we're taken along for the ride, the sights are just as compelling as the story. The comparisons to Mann's previous LA crime saga, Heat, are to be expected. But Collateral is less epic, more focused. Much like the hitman character of Vincent in the film.
Vincent is brilliantly portrayed by Tom Cruise. This is a role that was tailor made for Cruise. It takes advantage of his hard edged good looks; his intense eyes; his ambiguous feral grin. All the things that people often level as criticism against Cruise, he turns to an advantage. Vincent is a cool character, but at the same time he is dangerous. You can't be too sure about him. Cruise goes with it, and the result is one of his best performances in years.
Jamie Foxx plays Max, the cab driver whom Vincent manipulates into helping him with his job. A lot has been said about Foxx in Ray, but I was just as impressed with him here. He takes a rather thankless role and nails it. As Max he is in turns earnest, funny, desperate, scared. I also liked how the character is allowed be African-American, but they don't make it a plot point. He could be any of us, and Max is our emotional connection to the film. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise play off each other in one of the best pairings of the year.
The soundtrack is a standout as well; a mix of R&B, jazz and electronica that serves the various scenes and keeps us in tuned with the story. In the end, it's not the most original movie of the year. It doesn't transcend many of the conventions of crime/thriller type movies, but it is exceptionally well made and does offer some compelling ideas. One is forced to consider the amorality of Vincent and his rationalizations, his embracing of a nihilistic worldview and the way that Max is challenged to move from his comfortable world. Michael Mann has crafted a first rate thriller, with a first rate cast and this makes it one of the best films of the year.