A Film Review By The Mike

Rating:RATED R for Violence and Language
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise
Directed By: Michael Mann

Final Grade:

When the antagonist played by Tom Cruise gets into Max, the hero of Collateral’s cab, it’s a wake-up call the character had needed for a long time. Max has been stagnant for too long, a character settled into a cab job that he calls temporary, despite the fact he’s been at it for twelve years. Luckily he’s a man of moral solidity, as the battle of wits he’s involved in quickly boils down to what he would call “good against evil.”

It’s also probably the best thing that’s happened to Jamie Foxx, the actor playing Max, and should serve as a wake-up call to audiences everywhere as a statement of what this man can do. Despite shining in heavyweight dramas earlier (particularly Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday and Collateral director Michael Mann’s Ali), Foxx hasn’t been recognized well enough for the actor he is. At least, not until now.

Max is everything a hero used to be, in the days before Dirty Harry, John McClane and James Bond. He’s a sympathetic man, more worried about the preservation of life than the destruction of its assailants. He’s a quiet, intelligent character, who we like because he’s calm, not because he’s cool. His antithesis is Cruise’s Vincent, a self-proclaimed “indifferent,” who kills for money. He’s not like a lot of killers we see in our films. He doesn’t enjoy his work, nor does he dislike it. He simply does it, as a mean to an end.

Collateral is a film with a simple premise, despite my rantings on its characters above, and is one that could have easily made for a much more pedestrian thriller. Luckily, the script was given to Mann, who moved it from its original Washington D.C. locale to his beloved LA, and who went all out to make this one of the best looking films in years. Shot with an underused digital technique that harnesses the city’s natural nightlife, Mann’s vision here pushes the film into a higher level, where the actors take over.

Foxx and Cruise, as Max and Vincent, are responsible for carrying nearly every scene in the film. Foxx is energetic and likable throughout, and I liked him more and more in each scene, as he built his character quite well. Cruise, on the other hand, offers up a performance that’s a far cry from anything he’s done before. I didn’t once look at the screen and see “Tom Cruise, Hollywood Pretty Boy”. I saw a man that was frighteningly cool, who I didn’t want to like, despite his endlessly intriguing comments on life and death. When Max asks why he threw a victim out the window and Cruise responds with a dry “I didn’t throw him, he fell.” I couldn’t help laughing, even if I knew it was a morbid laugh.

It’s that attention to the characters’ moralities, and the performances of the actors in them, that push Mann’s film over the top. What could have been a stylish action flick with little depth instead plays out as a gripping thriller with a lot of thought-provoking moments. Instead of thinking things like “This bad guy’s really good with a gun” (which he is, as showcased in a late film shoot-out), I was constantly thinking things like “This guy would be pretty cool if he weren’t killing people.” I have nothing but respect for the work of Mann, Cruise, and Foxx, who’ve made a film that’s entertainment for both the eyes and the brain. Collateral is a dramatic thriller in the classic style of Hitchcock, and it’s one you shouldn’t miss.

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