Director Mann hits his stride with
Few actors, especially major stars, have ever successfully pulled off such a stunning against-type performance as Tom Cruise does in “Collateral.” God bless him for portraying a full- on bad guy, neither predictably sympathetic nor heroic as in most of his scripts; a risky career move if it weren’t for the fact that Cruise is like Swiss chocolate-put him in anything and its bound to taste better.
But in a film with plenty of subtle surprises here’s an important one: As good as Cruise is as a tight-suited, silver-haired hit man with a penchant for philosophic ramblings he by no means has to carry director Michael Mann’s gripping thriller. Cruise is merely one of several steely spokes in a well-oiled wheel steered by Mann’s stylistic intuitions that features nary a mediocre performance, regardless of screen time.
Take Jamie Foxx for example. His background in TV (“In Living Color”), disposable comedies (“Booty Call,” “Breakin’ All the Rules”) or even his splendid interpretation of trainer Bundini Brown (“Ali”) only hinted at what ground his obvious talent can cover. (He’s also getting major raves for his upcoming lead in the Ray Charles bio-pic “Ray” set to open later this year.)
As Max, he keeps his cab spotless and cares about his clients, especially when they are handsomely dressed prosecutors (a wonderfully sturdy Jada Pinkett Smith) who appreciate a warm conversation as nightfall sets upon the majestically filmed City of Angels. Mann (“The Insider,” “Heat,” “Last of the Mohicans”) loves his actor’s faces nearly as much as the glass and chrome architecture of his venue, and he uses his newly developed all digital camera to great effect. Reflections, shadows and light fragments abound, starkly capturing LA’s late night luminescence.
Max picks up Vincent (Cruise) and soon learns of the nihilistic purpose of his sharply dressed fare’s one night visit. He’s offered $600 to drive Vincent around to make 5 stops and after a body falls splat on top of Max’s cab-it becomes clear Vincent’s little visits are not exactly neighborly. He’s a hit man targeting informants on behalf of a drug lord.
For those who fondly remember “To Live and Die in LA,” “48 Hours,” and Mann’s second film “Manhunter,” (All 80s era cop dramas), “Collateral” will feel like a welcome return to a time when an action film’s intensity was wratcheted up by our closeness to the characters involved, not the dizzying shake of hand held cameras or the explosive din of twisted metal in a outrageously ramped-up car crash.
For its few but glaring coincidences and somewhat cliched contrivances, (a shootout in a flashy nightclub!), “Collateral” succeeds brilliantly because the ride is filled with a humanity filtering through its palpable dread.
Substance is often the victim of a director’s stylistic exertions, but Mann is firing on so many cylinders here that its flaws are inconsequential. A movie that looks, feels, and sounds (thanks to a wildly eclectic soundtrack that is utterly mesmerizing) this good is a welcomed sight in these dog days of summer.
Rated R for Violence and language, including 15 F-words