“A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in LA. He must find a way to save both himself and one last victim.”
Directed by: Michael Mann, Rated: R, 120 minutes
After watching Jack Reacher, I decided I need to get another dose of Tom Cruise. Looking at the man’s career, he’s almost always been the leading man, the hero, or the charming, charismatic dude everyone loves. But, if you look carefully through his filmography, one film really stands out as the time he played a villain; that film is Collateral, the 2004 Michael Mann gritty thriller that paints Cruise as a sadistic hitman. It’s always been a film I have loved, but after re-watching it through the lens of a movie blogger, I appreciate it even more. It’s filmed and edited incredibly well, looks incredible, and has a lot of little details you have to admire. It’s also got two incredible performances from both Cruise and Jamie Foxx (who earned an Oscar nomination). Who knew Cruise would be so good being bad?
Max (Foxx) is a night shift cab driver in Los Angeles. He’s a simple man living a simple life, but has dreams of doing greater things with his life. He wants to start his own business and gets by each night focusing on that dream. Vincent (Cruise) is a hitman that is visiting L.A to complete a list of contracts given to him by Felix (Javier Bardem), a crime lord who is going to court in a few days. After dropping off the lovely Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), a woman with whom he has a connection with, Max picks up Vincent. The hitman asks Max to take him to his first location, unknowing to the cabbie that it’s in fact, Vincent’s first target. After the victim is launched through a second story window and onto Max’s cab, he realizes that Vincent is a killer and must figure out how to get away from him. Unfortunately for Max, Vincent has other plans and “kidnaps” the driver to be his personal transportation for the night, taking him to each target.
Michael Mann has a way with a camera. In each of his films, he utilizes the night life of each city setting to great effect, turning it into an additional character in the film. With Collateral, Mann gives us a look at parts of Los Angeles you hardly see in films and turns it into something darker, grittier, and even more real. Each character feels like someone you’d run into on the streets, and even Cruise’s Vincent doesn’t feel too “out-there” as a contract killer. While a large part of that has to do with the performances, Mann (who also wrote the film) created these characters as fully developed individuals, giving them full backstories and histories. Mann gives Cruise and Foxx so much to work with, and you can tell in the few moments we get glimpses into their pasts that they’re real people. The world isn’t as much of something that’s created as much as it’s an actual capture of something happening right now. To add to the atmosphere, Mann also utilizes a jazzy, slow-burning score, that, for the most part, is pulled right from the film (source music). It’s a little effect you won’t notice right away, but it’s also a detail that makes you appreciate it even more.
As for the acting, specifically, Cruise delivers one of the best performances in his entire career. He’s much more tame in the charm department but still manages to get some of your attention and admiration, even though he’s a horrible human being. He’s a contract killer who has done plenty of things you would never approve of, and is most certainly a villain. However, he has a few moments where his past and personality sneak through, and a rather unusual friendship/loyalty to Max develops, showing you he has a soul, even if it’s twisted and black. And if Cruise is the perfect villain, Foxx is the perfect hero. Now, Collateral hit theaters in 2004, the same year Foxx earned an Oscar for his performance in Ray, so this was the first glimpse we had of him as a genuine dramatic actor. As the “newcomer” to the game, Foxx keeps up with Cruise, and even out-acts him in a few instances. He brings something special to the role, as you immediately connect with him, and any thought of harm being inflicted upon him makes you upset. He’s the ordinary man who gets caught up in a whole lot of nonsense and the struggles he must overcome are part of a battle we become a part of.
Collateral is a perfect example of when fine film-making combines with great acting. Michael Mann, a director who usually tackles larger, more ambitious projects, is at home in the smaller Collateral. Instead of focusing on shootouts or large action sequences, Mann focuses on the setting, the acting, and the little details. Along with Crash and Drive, Collateral gives us a look at Los Angeles we rarely see in film and shows us that there are actual worthwhile stories to tell in the city of the stars. Utilizing (and pioneering, in a sense) digital cameras, Mann creates a gritty vision of the likes we haven’t seen before, and the grainy imagery only highlights the violence even more. Thus, when it hits, it hits hard, and reminds us over and over that this isn’t the kind of happy story we usually get. It’s dark, bleak, and lacks a lot of hope at times, but is effective for doing so and makes Collateral one of the best films of the 2000s.
an LA landscape that’s unfamiliar and shows us that there’s more to the city than Disneyland, smog, and rich spoiled “celebrities”
incredible camerawork and imagery that heighten the mood and give us a detailed look at the world in a way we haven’t seen before
two lead performances both deserving of awards and recognition and Tom Cruise playing bad so damn well