While not as action oriented as the name, premise and Tom Cruise would have you believe, Collateral is still an intelligent, dramatic showcase of Michael Mann and his two leads.
Collateral (2004) is directed by Michael Mann and stars Jamie Foxx as Max, a cab driver with big ambitions to start a prestigious limo company. Instead, his life takes a violent turn when he picks up mysterious hitman Vincent (Tom Cruise) and reluctantly gets recruited into taking down 5 targets in one night.
While the premise makes Collateral sound like a fast-paced action flick with Cruise doing his typical badass routine, its happily much more intelligent than that. Sure, it has very tense and violent moments, but the real focus is on the well-developed characters and dialogue. While that may bore any viewers expecting something along the lines of a Bourne film, it shows a level of maturity and intrigue that elevates Collateral from its relatively standard premise.
All of this is anchored by an exceptional lead performance by Foxx. He keeps proceedings grounded in reality, sort of like if an average joe wandered onto the set of John Wick. The first act does an excellent job of establishing his character as ambitious, intelligent and hardened – all traits that come into focus when Cruise’s Vincent finally appears on screen.
Honestly, its awesome seeing Cruise as the villain. While I was initially hesitant, thinking that he was cast to plant his name on the poster, the way Cruise played Vincent with an edge while still being respectful sold me. He’s far from a one-note evil villain. Like Foxx’s character, Vincent has layers that steadily peal back as the film progresses. Initially he’s direct and simple, then untrusting and rude, and finally professional while still getting emotional. Its a great character, and I would argue one of Cruise’s best performances.
The direction of Mann is similar to the film itself, restrained and effective. He does an impressive job working within the constraints of a single cab – every shot is aware of the restrained space, without it feeling restrained. As the film goes along it begins to open up, move away from the cab, in a clever reflection of the plot and Max himself. Ultimately the cab works as an addition to Foxx’s character – small in scope, but through the story he begins to move away from the cab to finally rejecting it entirely. Just like his limo ambitions. Its subtle, smart, and showcases how great a director Mann can be at the height of his game. Judging from Heat, I shouldn’t be surprised.
The one major criticism I have with the film, is the soundtrack. Odd to bring up, but definitely worth mentioning. In normal situations, the score would be unnoticeable to the average audience member, but not only is it inconsistent with the colours it keeps manipulating, it actually drags down the tension of some scenes. What should be an intense cat-and-mouse escapade through an office is punctuated with a pseudo-rock melody. Why?! A steady, low bass score would be more than enough. Unoriginal sure, but far more effective than what they chose. Its incredibly unfortunate considering how well Mann still ramps up the tension even with the score. Imagine if they could reach their full potential.
To anyone interested in Collateral, know this – its not what the box advertises. While it may look like a fast-paced action/thriller, it is not. The action and thrills are scarce, and the violence is minimal. Anyone not disappointed by that realisation will however find an intelligent, effective drama/thriller about an everyman thrust into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. With the trio of Foxx, Cruise and Mann at the helm, Collateral will be appreciated by many that collide with it. Just not all.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended