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|In spite of its faults,
Collateral still delivers
Director: Michael Mann
By JIM CAROLUS
STATIC and FEEDBACK staff writer
Michael Mann’s Collateral is a fascinating
illustration of the ways in which expert direction and
superb acting can uplift and enhance a screenplay
that, frankly, isn’t worth a damn. While the concept
is ingenious (Jaime Foxx’s cab driver is “employed”
by Tom Cruise’s hitman as his transportation for a
night of murder), it’s the details that derail it. The
film is positively overrun with unbelievable
coincidences that weaken its impact as a “human
story,” working against the realism of powerful
performances by Cruise (in his darkest role) and,
Yet, I can’t think of an “unsuccessful” film that I
enjoyed more this year.
Credit Mann first and foremost. The creator of
Miami Vice has proven himself to be one of the
most potent visual stylists of our generation,
crafting an immaculately beautiful depiction of Los
Angeles rivaling that of Heat, his most masterful
crime thriller. Eschewing the sort of rapid-fire editing and jittery camerawork that often derails the work of semi-
hack directors like Michael Bay (Armageddon, Bad Boys) and Joel Schumacher (the nauseating, franchise-
killing Batman and Robin), Mann opts for a moody, low key editing style that allows him to fully nurture his
fascination with blue, green, and red lights; brilliant uses of blurring; and an astonishing employment of
darkness during the climax. Mann’s conservative editing also ensures that the film is never sloppy; everything is
crisp, clear, and coherent. For a “nuts and bolts” action film like this one, that’s a difference that counts.
It’s a good thing too, because this film is severely hampered by its inefficient, far-fetched screenplay. Despite
Cruise and Foxx’s evocative characterizations, the film becomes increasingly difficult to take seriously as it
progresses towards an utterly contrived and predictable conclusion. The problem is not with the dialogue
(largely effective), but with the structure itself. It’s a shame that screenwriter Stuart Beattie doesn’t seem to
possess a whit of intellectual creativity. Why else would he decide to portray these far-fetched elements as cold,
hard fact rather than the much more plausible (and artistically viable) idea that the entire film is a fanciful
daydream experienced by Foxx’s lovelorn, burned-out cabbie?
All the elements are in place for such a scenario: Foxx’s chance encounter with a beautiful lawyer (Jada Pinkett
Smith), his forced partnership with a killer who represents everything she hates, a series of nearly superhuman
“tests” of courage, and a final chance to “prove” his worth in a climactic battle of wills. As it is, one is almost able
to read this film in such a way, were it not for the startlingly wrongheaded decision to introduce Cruise’s
character before he gets into Foxx’s cab. The scene in question is only a minute long, but it’s unnecessary.
Mann should have taken it out, added a line of exposition explaining the “briefcase exchange” (the only thing that
happens in the scene) and left the rest of the film alone. Without its inclusion, Cruise would have NEVER been
on screen without Foxx, thus solidifying the much more interesting concept that he exists only in Foxx’s mind.
This would have made the film’s more unbelievable coincidences easier to accept. Alas, we are forced to take
everything at face value, and it just doesn’t work on a basic emotional level.
But there is still much to savor here. The ten-minute encounter between Foxx and Pinkett-Smith, the best scene
in the movie, is beautifully shot and edited. The picture also builds suspense expertly, particularly during
Cruise's tense face-off with a jazz musician (the second best scene in the film). And then there are the
performances. Cruise and Foxx are both at the top of their game. I’m beginning to think that those who disliked
Cruise’s portrayal here simply don’t like the idea of Tom Cruise in this sort of role (or any role, for that matter).
Their loss, he’s terrific. Imagine Colin Farrell or Ben Affleck in this role…see what I mean?
The Insider remains Michael Mann’s best film, but Collateral is a highly effective return to the pulse-pounding
suspense of Mann’s career-establishing 80’s thrillers Thief and Manhunter (both great!). Despite Beattie’s best
efforts to the contrary, the combined talents of Mann, Cruise and Foxx offshoot his textual mediocrity every step of
the way. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a good effort, and as a genre film it succeeds admirably.