No damage from 'Collateral'

Michael Ford
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Collateral
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   When you watch a Michael Mann film, you expect a certain quality. You expect to see the same directorial craftsmanship you saw in his past forays into cinema. “Collateral” fulfills that expectation.

   With movies like “Ali,” “Heat” and “The Last of the Mohicans” under his belt, Mann has set quite a standard for himself. “Collateral” is his most ambitious project yet. This time around he is collaborating with only the most popular guy in the world — Tom Cruise. With two of the biggest names in Hollywood being attached to this movie, it’s almost destined for success.

   Although this film is quite a departure from what we’re used to seeing from Cruise, he was thrilled to try his hand at something new.

   “It was certainly different and I always look for a challenge and something that’s different,” Cruise told Paul Fischer at www.filmmonthly.com. “This definitely had every element and promise of being that.”

   This is Cruise’s first attempt at playing a villain. If you can get past the mental picture of him dancing in his underwear in “Risky Business” or being a hotshot fighter-pilot in “Top Gun,” you will realize why he’s still as popular today as he ever was – his acting ability. He demands the audience’s complete attention just as he did in last year's, “The Last Samurai.”

   Cruise plays a man named Vincent who is a contract killer in need of a chauffeur. But Vincent doesn’t want a stroll around town or to visit a friend; he intends to seek out the five people he has been contracted to kill. Very little information is revealed on why these particular citizens have made it to Vincent’s hit list.

   After arriving at the airport and exchanging briefcases with another man, Vincent hops into a taxi driven by a guy named Max (Jamie Foxx). Vincent proposes to Max that he drive him around town so he can fulfill his contract. Despite Max’s reservations about the offer, he is forced to accept it; after all, the offer came with numerous crisp $100 bills and a gun to his head.

   It was only a matter of time before Foxx landed a role that showcased his undeniable talent. Many of you probably recall his flawless performance in Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday.” After that, he had a string of average movies such as “Bait.” But with “Collateral,” Foxx has hit the jackpot. This movie is going to catapult him into the superstar status he has been flirting with for the last decade.

   Foxx was ecstatic with the opportunity to be co-starring with an actor of Cruise’s caliber.

   “My experience for this role boils down to the fact that I had about a billion dollars worth of man in the back seat of my cab,” Fox told Thomas Chau at www.cinecon.com. “I better be careful.”

   The rest of the night plays out like a killing spree through the streets of Los Angeles. Max drives Vincent to a number of exotic clubs, parks and fountains; on each stop, Vincent finds his target, terminates them and moves on. Max makes numerous attempts to flee his driving obligations for the night but does so with little success.

   Of all the stops throughout the night, Club Fever in Koreatown is by far the most engaging. While blatantly unrealistic at times, you can’t help but appreciate the innovative cinematography. In a movie crowded with dialogue, this must be the action-relief; you’re treated to well over five minutes of gunplay before Vincent finally escapes while forcing Max to join him.

   In a scene about midway through the film, a pack of coyotes walk out in front of Max’s taxi. Keep in mind this is the middle of the massive metropolitan area known as Los Angeles. Max stops the taxi for the wild animals and then glances at Vincent, but there’s no dialogue. After the coyotes get across the street, the movie continues on as if nothing happened. It’s a rather strange scene and not something you’re used to seeing in conventional cinema, but that’s what made it so interesting. One can only speculate about the symbolism that is represented here.

   On Vincent’s fifth and final stop, Max recognizes the target; it’s Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith) who he had given a ride at the opening of the film. Max’s first customer of the night was coincidentally Vincent’s final victim. Who knew? Not only was she someone Max recognized, but they had become friends and exchanged phone numbers. Since I am a strong believer in the saying that all great stories are allowed one coincidence, this didn’t detract from the movie for me.

   Although Pinkett-Smith’s role is short-lived, her performance is definitely worth noting. The few scenes (especially the opening one) between her and Foxx play out in an elegant way that’s rarely seen in movies of this genre. Most directors treat the opening scene of an action movie as an obligation to a gunfight of some sort; Mann treats us to something in complete contrast to that, which is a glaring example of his filmmaking ingenuity.

   “Michael Mann is (the type) of director that takes you on a journey on how to access the character,” Pinkett-Smith told Angee Fielder at http://www.sacobserver.com/. "It was very helpful and as an actor (I feel) that this is what acting is supposed to be about.”

   You can see what this is all leading up to. Max decides he must stop Vincent from killing his newfound friend, Annie. A chase pursues and leads us to a very conventional ending.

   Very little fault can be found in this film. It displays Cruise and Mann at the top of their game, and Foxx beginning to hit his stride. It is chock-full of memorable performances that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it. Other than the ridiculous coincidence of Annie being one of Vincent’s five targets, and the standard chase at the end we’ve seen a million times over, this is a spectacular movie.

Grade: A-

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