MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Action Thriller/ Stars: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill, Irma P. Hall, Barry Shabaka Henley, Klea Scott, Javier Bardem, Emilio Rivera, Thomas Rosales, Jr., Inmo Yuon, Jason Statham, Angelo Tiffe, Paul Adelstein/ Runtime: 120 minutes
I feel it is safe to say that although he might not be seen in the same light as Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, or Martin Scorsese, iconic film helmer Michael Mann has still managed to find a way to carve out has one heck of a name for himself around the world of movie magic. In fact, with perhaps one or two of his films being the exception, I would have to say that Mann really truly is highly regarded as one of the finest Action/Drama helmsman around town. An honor I am willing to bestow upon him since not only are the movies that Mann his helmed just plain fantastically constructed, but they are also extraordinarily well-performed and they feel as genuine and authentic as you can possibly get. Yet of this quite diverse trinity of positive elements, I feel like Mann is perhaps most widely known and regarded for just how much love and respect he pays to detail in his movies especially when it comes to how he is able to make the environment itself into a distinct character in the film and in how realistically he approaches gunfights and grounds them in tactics, situations, and training that are all tried and true methods in the real world. The reason I bring this is up because, much in the same vein as 1995’s epic crime saga Heat- a film that incidentally seen as Mann’s magnum opus of sorts, his 2004 crime thriller Collateral is one that manages to come at audiences with a top-notch narrative, phenomenal performances from a top-flight cast, and a realism that just sadly is not found that much in the world of movie magic as much as it used to be. Indeed this film may be popcorn entertainment at its heart, but thankfully Mann makes sure through the utilization of both an edgy tone rife with plausibility that this distinct slice of cinematic pie is never able to drift far too much into the realm of make believe. Rather, this truly iconic and unique auteur instead manages to keep up a brilliantly delivered balancing act between inserting you, the movie goer smack dab in the center of a living nightmare courtesy of one hectic and downright chaotic night in Los Angeles whilst also conjuring up a riveting, but completely and utterly engaging atmosphere for you the audience to enjoy and for his cast of talented thespians to deliver their best work in thus making this film a true winner in every sense of the word.
The plot is as follows: Collateral starts as we witness what seems like it will be just another proverbial night in the life of a cab driver in the City of Angels by the name of Max. Or at least that is until he crosses paths with a gorgeous prosecutor by the name of Annie who, in their time together, sees in him that he could be more than a cab operator and is astonished at both his kind and affable demeanor to say nothing of his dream to one day leave the cab life behind and start up his own limo company. To that end, we see her not only offer him genuine friendship, but also the hint of maybe something more at the end of her time in the cab courtesy of her leaving him a job card with her phone number on it. Yet whilst Max is absorbed in this truly happy moment, we soon see it interrupted by the arrival of a man by the name of Vincent. A friendly, seemingly decent man who suspiciously offers Max six hundred dollars in exchange for taking him 5 places and then to the airport to get an early-morning flight out of L.A. Yet, despite it being against regulations, we see our intrepid hero decide to accept Vincent’s offer and not really pay it any mind whatsoever. At least that seems to be the case until at Vincent’s first stop when a human corpse decides to go free falling out of a window several stories up and decide to make its presence known by landing directly on Max’s cab thereby scaring the beejesus out of him. It is at this point that we, along with Max, are able to learn that Vincent is no less than a contracted assassin whose 5 stops are really 5 targets that he must do away with before the next day. Thus what started out as a regular night is now starting to turn into a night of rivetingly violent terror as we see our helpless protagonist finding himself pushed into becoming part of a perilous game that he is in no condition or desire to be part of while all the while a group of authorities start to narrow in on him and Vincent thus causing this to be one night that neither cab driver nor assassin will likely ever forget…
Now it should be noted that this film is one that brilliantly feels as vast and endless as L.A., but also as compressed as the back seat of a cab. Indeed Mann’s truly expert work at the helm does a constantly wonderful job of ensuring that you, the movie goer feel like a third person in the cab with Max and Vincent as they travel through Los Angeles whilst hunting down the 5 people on Vincent’s list. Not only that, but Mann’s phenomenal work in photographing the city and his talent for being able to place the two people inside the cab in just the right way for both realistic and pathos effect help to provide this film with a novel feel that manages to engulf you into the world showcased in the movie. More than that, Mann is also able to, with the aid of a top-notch script brought to him courtesy of Stuart Beattie, turn both of this truly distinct duo into actually relatable characters to the point that even the chilly, machine-like, and lethal Vincent does seem like he could be quite the affable individual when he’s not working on a hit list or having to fire his .45 at anyone. However even though the filmmaking team behind the camera manage to make Vincent this ice-cold killer with some degree of heart to him, it is still quite obvious which of these attributes is the more dominant one in Vincent’s life and which is the one that gets a chance every so often to pop out of hiding and make an appearance. Thus as a result it is Max who, for all intents and purposes, not only becomes the eyes of the audience in the movie, but also due to being an ordinary guy who, at the beginning, doesn’t have the fortitude to deal with what he has just been put into, is the unlikely protagonist of the piece as well even all he gains as a result of his encounter with Vincent is just confidence, skill, and a lot of legal headaches he’s going to have to sort out.
Ultimately however, while the work at the helm is incredible and the script truly riveting, this is a film which manages to soar ever higher due to a duo of electric and engaging performances from both Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Indeed both of these truly talented thespians manage to immerse themselves in their roles and give that final shove towards being as realistic as possible thus making this film truly dynamite in the best ways possible. This of course is not just due to the work done by the two main leads, but also because of, first and foremost, Mann’s desire to make the characters that populate the worlds that his movies are set in as immersive and realistic as he possibly can. Indeed to that end we see that Tom Cruise, through extensive firearms training, is able to showcase truly remarkable gun handling and fighting skills throughout the film to say nothing of his incredible ability at showcasing hints of humanity whilst still remaining an ice-cold and highly dangerous trained killer, and Jamie Foxx is able to showcase a terrific balancing act between a man completely out of his element only to, as the film goes on, find it within himself to fight back. Also of note is how the film’s riveting script also does a great job at giving both of this dynamic duo some truly edged and yet integrity-laced dialogue to work with. It is in that regard that I say Jamie Foxx out of the two manages to work with what the script gives him fabulously especially when it comes to a moment in the film where he is forced to masquerade as Vincent and which also requires him to go from seemingly innocent to tough as nails in the blink of an eye, but we also get really great work from Cruise especially when it comes to his delivery of the philosophies that make up not only who Vincent is, but also why he does what he does. Thus, and as a result, we get a film that is truly electric thanks to the work done by the dynamic duo in the lead roles even if they are in different areas of the cab, but also on the spectrum of morality as well.
All in all whilst not entirely what many people out there would consider to be an “exciting” film by any stretch of the imagination, but most definitely one that hits you as hard as a high-speed bullet train, and is also a very meditative, phenomenally built, wonderfully performed, and potently realistic film, Collateral manages to be not only yet another wonderful entry in Michael Mann’s filmography, but also one of the better films in regards to films made by thespian Tom Cruise in the 2000s. As for Mr. Jamie Foxx, this film managed to be not only another win for him, but another in a long line of truly remarkable performances by a thespian who sadly doesn’t get the recognition that his talents warrant, but who also is still someone who can be dependable in getting a top-notch performance out of no matter what the parts asks him to pull off at any time he is on screen. To that end, Collateral is, more than anything else, very much an anti-buddy film that manages to insert in some intriguing thought processes, ways of living, and morality whilst also seeming to suggest that when the situation calls for it, a person is able of going to the opposite end of where they normally choose to operate from be it getting down and dirty or buying flowers for a person in the hospital. Indeed Mann manages to ensnare and showcase this back and forth wonderfully whilst also merging it into both the claustrophobia-inducing inside of a cab as well as the vast and seemingly endless landscape of Los Angeles. A city that, incidentally, our antagonist plain and simply says is guilty of “nobody noticing” anything that occurs to them be it good, ill, or a mix of both. Yet if there was one thing I would hope you would notice dear reader, it would have to be this film. It might not look like anything particularly noteworthy, especially when the home release covers for this film haven’t been the best in the world, but trust me when I say you will not forget it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Collateral “04” a solid 4 out of 5.