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Posts Tagged ‘Collateral’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published October 14th 2004:

Faint echoes of both The Terminator and Speed reverberate through Michael Mann’s Collateral, which features an always-welcome appearance by one of this column’s favourite leading men. Unfortunately, Jason Statham is only in the movie for about a minute, as the director has (for reasons best known only to himself and the massed moviegoing public) decided to give the lead role in his latest thriller to some schmuck called Tom Cruise.

Collateral is a return to territory, both physical and narrative, that Mann has visited before. It’s a Los Angeles-set crime drama revolving around a masculine battle of wits. On this occasion the combatants are Max (Jamie Foxx), a cab driver who’s been on the verge of doing something with his life for the last twelve years, and Vincent (Cruise), a contract killer he is unlucky enough to pick up as a passenger. Vincent has five stops to make in the course of the night and decides to get Max to chauffeur him around between them. Originally this is done purely through financial incentives, but once Max rumbles what Vincent is up to (his first target is unhelpful enough as to fall out of an apartment block onto the roof of Max’s cab) sterner measures are in order. Will Max get through the night in one piece? Will Vincent complete his hit list? Will the LAPD (unstandably alarmed by the trail of corpses the pair leave in their wake) figure out what’s going on and get involved? One thing’s for sure: it was never like this in Carry On Cabbie.

As one would expect from the director of Manhunter and Heat, this is a tautly-directed movie with barely an inch of fat on it. It’s built around a neat central idea but for all that I suspect screenwriter Stuart Beattie had to work horribly hard to flesh it out into the credible and complex story this film tells. Only in a few places does it seem contrived or improbable (for instance, at one point Vincent decides he and Max will visit Max’s elderly mother in hospital). It’s expertly paced, mixing hard-edged action with much longer, almost laid-back sequences of the cab just cruising nocturnal LA. The city has seldom looked so beautiful on the big screen, for all the darkness of the story… The cinematography is gorgeous, digital cameras and conventional film meshing nearly flawlessly.

But while the movie looks great your attention never wanders too far from the lead characters and their slightly peculiar relationship. I must confess to being unfamiliar with Jamie Foxx before this film but he does a very fine job here as a regular person who gradually realises exactly how far over his head he’s ended up. He is, however, inevitably overshadowed by Tom Cruise, who gives his best performance in quite some time. It would, of course, make perfect sense for Vincent to put a bullet in Max’s ear the moment he realises what’s going on, and so in order for the movie not to be half an hour long and quite depressing the assassin is written as a man with a deeply skewed but still binding moral code. Not only does he keep his reluctant companion alive, he even attempts to give him personal and career advice, and seems rather offended when his help is rejected. This injects some welcome humour into what’s quite a taut and grim story, and allows Cruise a chance to shine. For once all the smarm and narcissism doesn’t get in the way of the performance, and he’s very effective indeed in portraying a man who, on the face of it, seems almost non-descript, but is underneath is deeply psychologically flawed.

To be honest, when the two leads aren’t in the taxi, and especially when they’re apart, the film has a slight tendency to drift, but not enough to spoil it. The climax is a tiny bit identikit-action-movie fodder and the final showdown inevitably seems a bit implausible. But on the whole this is a hugely impressive movie, a strong candidate for thriller of the year.

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