Michael Mann is one of those great filmmakers that gets plenty of accolades, but isn't exactly a household name. In other words, if you see a commercial that says "A Michael Mann Film," it doesn't hold as much weight with the general public as, say, a commercial that says "An M. Night Shyamalan Film." That might change now with box-office heavyweight Tom Cruise and emerging heavyweight Jamie Foxx starring in his new film, Collateral. After taking on two true story adaptations (See: The Insider, Ali), Mann returns to the scene of his greatest triumph (See: Heat) in Los Angeles, in this wonderfully tense crime drama.
The movie starts off with Vincent (Cruise) getting off a plane (along with literally bumping into Jason Statham, in an surprising cameo) and Max (Foxx) starting another day as a cabbie. We cross over between Max and Vincent as they both prepare for their day, and as the day turns to night, when Max drops off an interesting fare (Pinkett-Smith) he picks up the seemingly normal Vincent, a smooth talker with money to spare. He buys out the cab for his 5 stops and it's looking like Max is having quite a profitable night. At the first stop, though, things go awry when a dead body falls on the cab, and Max realizes Vincent killed him, and is being taken hostage as a getaway driver on the rest of his hits for the night.
If you've seen Heat and are as big a fan of it as I am, you will definitely appreciate the seedy portrait that Mann paints of the City of Angels. Like Guy Ritchie shows us the hard underbelly of London, Mann's L.A. is more 400-grit, than the palm trees and sunshine we normally see L.A. shown as. This scene is masterfully complimented by a Heat-like score by James Newton Howard, who oddly enough did not score Heat and shows that Mann truly sees the importance of the score in a film.
I think it's safe to say that we have NEVER seen Tom Cruise in a role like this. He rarely plays the bad guy, with the exception of his role as Lestat in Interview With a Vampire. He is kind of a bad guy as Frank "TJ" Mackey in Magnolia, but he's more of a condescending prick than an actual antagonist. Anyway, this is Cruise's first, true bad guy role in a long time, and he pulls it off magnificently. It's so refreshing to see him take on such a different type of character, because his down-on-his-luck/seeking redemption character is prevalent in nearly all of his recent movies (See: The Last Samurai, Minority Report, Magnolia, etc). Cruise is perfect as the slick killer Vincent and he hasn't has as subdued a performance than this one. Jamie Foxx has been turning in great performances, without much credit for a few years now, with his splendid performances in Any Given Sunday and Ali. His breakthrough performance will likely come later this year when he plays Ray Charles in the biopic, Ray, but this is a nice warm-up for that breakthrough. Foxx gives a spectacular supporting performance as Max, and he holds his own just fine alongside Cruise, even taking the "drivers seat" (bad pun, sorry) from Cruise in some parts. There are some very nice, much smaller performances from Mark Ruffalo, who's also gaining some much deserved acting cred, as a detective and Jada Pinkett-Smith as an attorney, although actor-turned-director-turned-actor-again Peter Berg (director of The Rundown) is rather annoying as Ruffalo's cop partner.
Stuart Beattie, best known as one of the writers behind last year's smash hit Pirates of the Carribbean, crafts a wonderful story with a smooth, original premise. There is some very nice foreshadowing here, nice believable dialogue and a plot that is similar to Robert Towne's incredible Chinatown script, in that it slowly reveals itself, piece by piece, accentuating the tension and drama. There isn't really a super-big twist at the end, like in Chinatown, but the way the plot unravels is comparable to Chinatown. This is probably one of the best screenplays of the year, so far.
Director Michael Mann does a superb job at the helm, overall, but there are some logistical problems that bugged me a bit, like when Vincent cuts the power of a building, the lights in the stairwells and lobby remain lit. Nitpicking? Sure, but these type of things normally don't go overlooked, and I'm surprised they slipped past Mann. He does, though, create an amazing vision of L.A. and his work with Cruise alone is worthy of praise. He's a helmer that is definitely a minimalist, using no special effects and relying on his actors, script and directing talent to carry a movie, rather than superficial effects. It would be great to see more filmmakers like Mann emerge from Hollywood, because I think his style is well worth following.
Collateral is a movie about adapting to a different environment, if only for one night, and how that might change a person forever. If you've spent your summer searching for the proverbial "edge of your seat" at the movies, you'll definitely find it seeing Collateral, because that's where you'll be for nearly the entire movie.