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COLLATERAL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill
Director: Michael Mann
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Dreamworks
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: December 14, 2004

ďMAXÖI DO THIS FOR A LIVING!Ē

Film ****

Movies like Collateral are why I love films and reviewing them. Believe me when I say that there hasnít been a, pardon the term, cooler film in years.

Michael Mann is one of my all time favorite filmmakers. He serves as sort of a poet of tales involving crime and morality. He also happens to have one of the best visual eyes of any single director in the history of cinema, in my honest opinion. Any time youíre watching one of his films, you know its Mann behind the camera simply because nobody shoots a movie like he does.

After doing two fact based films, The Insider and Ali, Mann returns to the genre he knows best with Collateral, a sleek and brilliant action thriller/morality play that boasts a magnificent cast, a tightly wound story, and a remarkable use of L.A. as more than just a setting, but perhaps the most vital character in the film. Mann knows this city better than any other director, as seen in his masterful Heat, and Collateral is his best piece of work since that film.

The movie opens with Max (Jamie Foxx), an L.A. cabdriver who is about to begin another late shift on what seems to be an ordinary night. After a string of typically irritating fares, he picks up a friendly and pretty lawyer named Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith). They get to talking and soon get acquainted after Max offers a free ride after betting he can get her to work on a more convenient route. She in turn gives Max her phone number, which has just made his day.

The next fare Max picks up, and at the last minute, is a calm and well dressed man who introduces himself as Vincent (Tom Cruise). After being impressed with Maxís efficient driving, he makes an offer to the cab driver. He will give him a cool six one hundred dollar bills if he can get him to the five stops he needs to make before making an early morning flight out of LAX. Following some slight hesitance, Max accepts the offer.

Though Max feels he may have gotten slightly in over his head by accepting the private job, itís a far cry from how he feels once itís revealed who Vincent is. At the first stop, Max is stunned to discover a dead body has fallen right on top of his cab. Heís even more stunned when Vincent, who introduced himself as a real estate broker, administered the killing. He introduced himself as a real estate broker, but is actually a contract killer.

The body falling on the cab was an accident, but Vincent has no choice but to hold Max at gunpoint and make sure the offer goes as planned. Max is forced to wrestle with his conscience, as the idea of driving someone to make hit after hit doesnít sit too well with him. Vincent assures him that if remains calm; he will make it through the night alive and with more money than originally offered.

Although what Iíve just described may sound like a traditional hostage thriller, Collateral is anything but. The character of Vincent isnít a one-dimensional wacko, and Tom Cruise once again delivers a magnificent revelation in a razor sharp performance. Vincent isnít perceived as a psychopath killer, but a man who has a job to do and intends on getting it done. In addition, he calls out Max to confront the state of denial heís in, such as the ongoing dream he has about opening up his own limo company, despite being stuck in the same deadbeat job for twelve years.

As the night rolls on, an undercover cop named Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) starts to suspect that something isnít right. One of his undercover contacts has gone missing, and once getting word of more dead bodies of key figures in a drug operation, Fanning believes that someone is in town to keep a certain someone from being indicted in an upcoming case.

Collateral throws in some superbly nice touches at unexpected places. Thereís a remarkably tense scene where Vincent and Max go to a jazz club. The two have a chat with a jazz trumpeter who recalls a night he got to play alongside Miles Davis. This scene feels like rare happy moment, but with a small transition the scene takes on a whole new meaning adding up to one of the darkest moments in the film. Another unexpected scene has Vincent forcing Max to visit his sick mother (Irma P. Hall) in the hospital.

A key moment in the film is an outstanding action sequence that takes place inside a nightclub. It demonstrates that when Michael Mann executes action in his movies, itís done with the utmost effectiveness. This tension in this sequence is unrelenting, and the build up to it is mind blowing.

Mannís use of music in the movie is phenomenal. The nightclub sequence is accompanied by Paul Oakenfoldís energetic ďReady Steady GoĒ. Perhaps the most effective use of music is the song ďShadow of the SunĒ by Audioslave, which happens to be my favorite rock band at the moment. That song finds its way into the movie not once, but twice at pivotal moments. The lyrics perfectly resonate with the characters and the mood. Itís as if we were watching a whole new episode of Mannís Miami Vice, which had many notable music cues.

Of all the doses of brilliance to be found in Collateral, the most important element is the look of the film. Mann has made a bold choice to shoot 90% of the movie in a hi-definition process called ViperStream. Through this innovative process, the camera is able to give a whole lot more detail in the frame, especially in the background. Los Angeles has never looked more amazing on film. Mannís use of this technique has resulted in a bold looking film with images that have to be seen to be appreciated. No other film of this year is more worthy of the Oscar for cinematography.

With its two strong caliber turns from Cruise and Jamie Foxx and a dose of visual brilliance from style master Michael Mann, Collateral is a remarkably made character driven/thriller. Itís now in the running for my pick of best film of the year, and deserves to be noticed come Oscar time.

Video ****

Watching this movie in the theater, one of the first thoughts that went through my mind was how good this was going to look on DVD. This particular hi-def filming process of Collateral, which had never been used on any other movie, would definitely ensure a landmark looking disc.  The end result is what has got my vote for best video performance of the year. The anamorphic picture, courtesy of Dreamworks, is nothing short of breathtaking as the hi-def picture illuminates the screen. Image quality is thoroughly clear and extremely detailed, as there isnít a single thing in the frame that goes unnoticed. Itís rare that a film shot almost entirely at night would result as a monumental looking disc, but it has been achieved.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix provided makes its presence felt right from the start of the film. The level of dynamic range simply never ends. The sounds of Los Angeles are felt in just about every moment. Dialogue delivery is incredibly clear as can be. The strongest areas are the key moments of action and use of music, be it the songs on the soundtrack or the superb score by James Newton Howard. It adds up to a DVD sound performance to be remembered.

Features ***1/2

Although a worthy commentary track is nowhere to be found, this 2-disc offering from Dreamworks does include enough to make this an exceptional release. There are two very well made documentaries, ďCity of Night: The Making of CollateralĒ and a look at the use of visual effects during the climatic scene on the MTA Train. Also featured is footage of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx rehearsing, and a special segment showing Cruise getting into character. Lastly, there are bonus previews and production notes.

Summary:

Collateral is quite simply one of those canít-go-wrong scenarios that actually fulfills the promise. Michael Mann has made his most incredible film since Heat, and the performances from Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx are as top notched as they come. The end result is a prime candidate for the Best Film of 2004!

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