June 27, 2005
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bruce McGill, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, Peter Berg, Barry Shabaka Henley, Jessica Ferrarone, Angelo Tiffe, Daniel Lujan, Irma P. Hall, Emilio Rivera, Debi Mazar, ,
Cabbie Jamie Foxx is having a very bad day thanks to hitman Tom Cruise, who hijacks his car and takes him on a killing spree through Los Angeles.
Michael Mann, some time after inventing trashy cop shows and bungling Nazi horror movies, has become an American Auteur with his now legendary starched-shirt protagonists and uber-cool take on the criminal underdog fighting to survive in a world that rejects him. But just when it seemed he could do no wrong, along comes Collateral; a genre movie that seems at first glance to be summer blockbuster material rather than intellectual drama, but thanks to Mann’s influence it falls somewhere inbetween. Several critics will have Collateral in their top ten lists for 2004, and it’s a stylish thriller, but you can’t help but feel if Mann’s name wasn’t at the front people may have seen the film for what it really is.
Depending on who you talk to, the kudos belongs either to Cruise as grey-haired hitman Vincent or Foxx as his unwilling hostage-cum-chauffeur. We all know Cruise is one of the top leading men in Hollywood, but so far Jamie Foxx has been relegated to shouty comedic roles and with Collateral and his award-friendly turn in the Ray Charles biopic, he’s fast emerging as a genuine talent and has stolen some of the Cruiser’s thunder. Both men deliver the goods in what is essentially a clichéd thriller coated with a lick of A-List paint. How many times have we seen the bumbling hero attempt to fire a gun only to realise the safety is still on, or the Mexican crime boss who launches into a long-winded anecdote at the most inappropriate moment?
Technically the film is top-notch, mainly thanks to the use of high-definition digital cameras to capture the buzzing, luminous L.A streets at night (You have to wonder what drew Mann to the script – was it the chance to work with Cruise or because he could shoot in his favourite L.A locations?). Yet underneath the surface gloss there really isn’t as much going on as Mann or screenwriter Beattie would like you to think. An excellent first hour sets up cabbie Max as a quiet man saving up to start his own Limo business who picks up pretty lawyer Jada Pinkett Smith. They hit it off and say goodbye but then Vincent gets in the back of Max’s cab and it soon becomes clear this guy is a cold blooded killer and like it or not, Max is going to drive him to each of his five targets during the night.
So far, so good, but it’s not long before grounded reality gives way to the usual Hollywood climax full of shoot-outs, helicopters and a subway chase. For every spark of originality there are two bum notes (in one memorable scene Vincent trips over a chair as he chases Max, just like we probably would in real life, but then the next minute he jumps onto a moving train like the Terminator). Mann has always been bold with his use of music, but he includes intrusive rock for no apparent reason other than to amp up a very ordinary sequence such as cop Mark Ruffalo searching an apartment Vincent has just vacated, or a coyote roaming a deserted street in front of Max’s cab (it’s metaphor for Vincent dontcha’know). It’s this heavy-handedness that makes you wonder if you’re watching a debut director merely trying to imitate Mann’s style in an above-average popcorn thriller rather than the man himself firing on all cylinders.
Cruise has done intensive training to make him appear to be highly competent in battle and this is one of the film’s biggest strengths (witness a gang of thugs stealing his briefcase and having to pay the price). But arguably it’s Foxx who has the toughest role, having to react to heightened situations one after the other. So Collateral is overrated, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. It’s merely solid genre entertainment and does what it does very smoothly, giving Foxx and Cruise ample room to shine during their many verbal sparring scenes. Collateral just isn’t as innovative as it thinks.
Sadly these were unavailable to review at the time of going to press, but rest assured you’ll be treated to a two-disc set featuring deleted scenes with commentary from Michael Mann, ‘City of Night: The Making of Collateral’, ‘Special Delivery’ featurette, ‘Shooting on Location’ featurette, ‘Visual Effects: MTA Train’ featurette and rare footage of Tom Cruise undergoing his combat training for the film. Collateral is also available in a cheaper one-disc version but let’s face it: it’s better to have more than less.