Cabbie vs. Killer
Note to self: Think twice before taking a job as a taxi driver -- especially in Los Angeles. You might get stuck with a passenger like Vincent, Tom Cruise’s stone-cold hit man in Collateral, director Michael Mann’s inventive crime thriller that follows shy cabbie Max, portrayed by Jamie Foxx, as he tries to outwit a determined killer on his deadly assassination rounds.
Thanks to impressive cinematography by Dion Beebe (Equilibrium) and Paul Cameron (Man on Fire), the City of Angels assumes as much importance here as the movie’s story and characters. Filmed almost completely with a modified high definition digital video camera, the gritty side of La La Land comes through with stark realism. However, in one amazing shot from above, L.A. looks like a beehive sprinkled with thousands of tiny diamonds. In another, cars moving down a highway form the backdrop for close-ups of a violent confrontation between Vincent and Max. Yes, indeed. Collateral has three co-stars. And each one sparkles as never before.
Sporting silver gray hair and a suit to match, Cruise projects a taut combination of cynicism and stoicism as he toys with Max during their wild ride together. Foxx, shedding his In Living Color comic persona, endows Max with a growing sense of doom that finally explodes into action. It’s a treat to see Foxx nail the changes in Max’s character and to watch Cruise play a villain with such pizzazz. So much for typecasting.
Steven Beattie’s (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) screenplay is peppered with clever dialogue. “You killed him,” cries Max when a body falls on the top of his cab. “No, I shot him, but the bullets and the fall killed him,” Vincent responds. In a poignant scene featuring Max’s hospitalized mother (Irma P. Hall), Max complains to both Vincent and his mom, “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.” And, in a wonderful opening vignette, Max bonds with a lovely lawyer named Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) by engaging in a playful argument about the best route to her destination.
Never mind that Collateral's plot doesn’t always compute. (For example, how does one detective know so much toward the end of the film?) Cinematic artistry and memorable performances make up for any minor weaknesses here. Because of his splendid work helming this riveting motion picture, Mann (The Insider, The Last of the Mohicans, Ali) earns a place on my list of favorite directors. He’s clearly a master now at creating almost perfect filmic pace and exquisite movie suspense. I’m sure he'll be good company for Jonathan Mostow, Ridley Scott, M. Night Shyamalan and Alfred Hitchcock.
(Released by DreamWorks and rated “R” for violence and language.)