Michael Mann returns to the genre that holds his best work: the crime thriller. This time around Jamie Foxx plays a cabdriver who’s commandeered by sociopathic hitman Tom Cruise to assist him in his nefarious endeavors. It’s a facsinating character study of two clashing personalities, but ultimately loses it’s footing in the third act. Thankfully the clumsy ending isn’t enough to detract from two great performances from Cruise and Foxx.
Michael Mann has had one of those careers that are almost staggeringly entertaining. Since 1983, nearly every one of his directorial efforts has been a favorite of mine. Although it’s taken nearly 10 years for him to return to the crime genre that he redefined with 1995’s Heat, I was a little uneasy about Collateral. Tom Cruise somehow manages to fascinate and repel me at that same time, and Jamie Foxx is a bit of an unknown film quality to me. Thankfully, Mann’s skilled hand at directing turned great performances from both actors, with only a minor disappointment.
Collateral tells the story of Max (Foxx), an L.A. cabdriver who has turned his work into a science while trying to break into something greater. At an airport run he picks up Vincent (Cruise) who hires him to make five stops and get him back to the airport. Unbeknownst to Max, Vincent is in town to eliminate the witnesses of an upcoming drug trafficking trial, but soon Max is an unwilling accomplice as both driver and decoy.
And really, that’s about it. Collateral doesn’t work so much as a thriller as it does a character study of two opposites. Cool, unshakeable Vincent with his uneasy grasp of morality, and Max, a moral man forced to make immoral choices to save his own life. Both actors turn in absolutely perfect performances, and for once Cruise’s devil-may-care cockiness comes across as more chilling than grating. Foxx really impressed me here, especially in a scene where he has to pose as Vincent, going from a nervous wreck to a spot-on delivery of Cruise’s style and demeanor.
However the character that steals the most scenes is L.A. itself. Mann has made his city just as integral to the story as the characters or their actions. Filmed in a mix of high definition digital and traditional film, Mann dirties up the print to present a night time film that feels achingly real. There’s an almost complete lack of artificial lighting, which allows you to feel like you’re peeking in on two lives that could be happening around you.
Sadly, the last 20 minutes of the film degenerate into a standard action boiler plate which makes for one jarring thematic transition, but every minute up to that point is just perfect. Mann’s next project is rumored to be a big screen adaptation of his seminal TV crime series, Miami Vice, which is a mind boggling choice for a director of his caliber, but if he can capture the vibrancy and vitality he’s produced in Collateral, I may have to give it a go.
Great pacing and camerawork only heighten the tensions of this already airtight thriller, so I give it a pass based on the first 3/4ths of the movie. If only they’d thought the ending through more….