Review by Gordon Justesen
Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill
Director: Michael Mann
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: March 30, 2010
“Why don't you just kill me and get another cab driver?”
“Cause you're good. We're in this together. Fates intertwined. Cosmic coincidence.”
Movies like Collateral are why I love films and reviewing them. Believe me when I say that there hasn’t 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 you’re 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 Max’s 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, it’s a far cry from how he feels once it’s revealed who Vincent is. At the first stop, Max is stunned to discover a dead body has fallen right on top of his cab. He’s 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 doesn’t 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 I’ve just described may sound like a traditional hostage thriller, Collateral is anything but. The character of Vincent isn’t a one-dimensional wacko, and Tom Cruise once again delivers a magnificent revelation in a razor sharp performance. Vincent isn’t 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 he’s 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 isn’t 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. There’s 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, it’s done with the utmost effectiveness. This tension in this sequence is unrelenting, and the build up to it is mind blowing.
Mann’s use of music in the movie is phenomenal. The nightclub sequence is accompanied by Paul Oakenfold’s energetic “Ready Steady Go”. Perhaps the most effective use of music is the song “Shadow of the Sun” 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. It’s as if we were watching a whole new episode of Mann’s 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. Mann’s 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.
When one of Michael Mann’s films gets a Blu-ray release date, I am immediately filled with complete joy. For me, Mann’s distinctive hi-def video format has transferred tremendously well to Blu-ray as illustrated by discs for both Miami Vice and Public Enemies. This was the first film Mann shot in the format, and I have to say that Paramount has done an equally commendable job in converting the eccentric visual style. Never before has Los Angeles been brought to more vivid life. I am dazzled by the scenic shots each time I watch it, and in HD I was even more blown away. The occasional spots of grain are fully intentional and I’m really glad that it was kept, since the film would lose some effect without it. Colors and flesh tones are pitch perfect, as well!
The DTS HD mix takes the sound of this film to even more explosive heights. Once again, the surroundings of L.A. play a prominent role here, and result in some terrific and effectively subtle moments in the surround sound as far as set pieces and background noises are concerned. Whenever Vincent pops out his gun to use, you will feel the effect of every bullet fired. And the nightclub sequence is so rivetingly heard that you no less feel as though you’re right in the middle of the action. Dialogue delivery, whether in loud or silent settings, is handled flawlessly.
Paramount has wisely taken a two-disc DVD release and made it into a single Blu-ray edition, with all of the previous extras intact. Included is a commentary with Michael Mann, the documentary, “City Of Night: The Making of Collateral”, Special Delivery: a sort of Candid Camera bit with Cruise, a Deleted Scene with Commentary, additional featurettes including “Shooting On Location: Annie's Office”, “Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse” and “Visual FX: MTA Train”. Lastly we get the original theatrical trailer and teaser for the film.
Collateral remains one of director Michael Mann’s truly greatest cinematic achievements. And on Blu-ray, the film is an even cooler and more intense experience. Cruise and Foxx are both at the top of their game, and this journey through nighttime L.A. remains as unforgettable as ever.