Collateral takes a premise that is otherwise flawed and makes it into one of the most compelling films of the summer. Now that takes skill, and leave it to director Michael Mann and a solid cast to get the job done.
At the beginning of the film we meet Max (Foxx), a polite cabbie who has big dreams of starting his own limousine business. His first passenger is Annie (Smith), a prosecutor who is very nervous about her case. Max calms her down by telling her of his dreams, and about how when things get heavy, he gazes into a photo of a deserted island and gets lost. The scene establishes Max’s daily routine and how he is a well-spoken man with big dreams.
Soon after, Max’s services are solicited by Vincent (Cruise), a seemingly friendly man who just needs for Max to make five stops throughout the night. To sweeten the deal, he offers Max $600 to do the job. It’s just too good of an offer to refuse.
During the first stop, a body lands on Max’s cab shortly after Vincent went up to “visit” someone. The film acts as if it wants it to be a surprise (have they seen their own trailer?), but it turns out that Vincent is a hit man who has five witnesses involved in a high profile court case to off before the night is up.
The flawed premise that I spoke of at the start of this review is the following: What kind of a hit man hires a cabbie to drive him around knowing that he will be a witness to all of his crimes? This is a valid complaint, but the film becomes so taut and involving the, by the last 1/4 of the film, it is really a moot point.
Tom Cruise is superb as Vincent, a man who really has no regard for human life. This is his job, and I must say that he is efficient. After being questioned by Max after his first kill, Vincent replies, “there’s six billion people on Earth and you’re mad because I killed a fat Angelino?” Cruise’s performance is chilling in many ways, as are the sudden outbursts of violence that permeate the film. Your attention will not be strayed.
The biggest surprise, however, is Jamie Foxx as Max. Known mainly as a comedian, this will undoubtedly be a breakout role for him as he effortlessly gains our sympathy in a serious role. He is the perfect counter to Cruise’s erratic Vincent. Foxx deserves major props for expanding his horizons and doing so in a superb character role.
Michael Mann’s direction, to no one’s surprise, is top notch. He smoothly guides us through nighttime Los Angeles and gives us some truly suspenseful action scenes. He makes clever use of the shaky camera (I never thought I’d be saying that!) and constantly maintains the atmosphere the film deserves. Mann has always has a knack for crime films with dense characters (see Heat), and this one is no exception. He continues to be one of the best directors in Hollywood.
Collateral is one of the smartest and craftiest films of the summer, and is a must-see for film goers needing to use their thinking cap. Jamie Foxx has clearly established himself as a very capable actor, and Tom Cruise fans will not be let down either. Recommended.
Length: 119 Minutes
Rating: R for violence and language.
Theatrical Release: August 6, 2004
Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill