Max (Jamie Foxx) has been a cab driver for 12 years. Then on a single night he has two fares that change his life - and theirs. Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is the DA, a prosecutor on a huge case. They strike a chord with each other. Next up is Vincent (Tom Cruise), a contract killer, working a round of targets in Los Angeles; he wants Max to drive him to work. Max is traumatised but has no choice, and they begin a tumultuous, in-cab relationship. Vincent's targets are informers who threaten to jail a narcotics lord, Felix (Javier Bardem)... who is Annie's target. When the final informer is found, Vincent has one more assignment: Annie. Now Max realises he does have a choice.
Review by Louise Keller:
An intense, splendid thriller that roars like an engine, Collateral is a bit like riding on a knife's edge. With gripping performances by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, Collateral is the story of two men brought together by chance. One is a killer, the other a cab driver. At first glance they seem worlds apart, but under the magnifying glass, they are not as different as we first think. Both men are expert at what they do, but more importantly, they take pride in their work.
Academy Award winning director Michael Mann (The Insider) weaves together this complex story with all the skill of an artist layering his palette. With a narrative that unwinds during one long night, Mann uses tight close-ups combined with integrated aerial shots, allowing a sense of scale as we traverse the streets of LA. James Newton Howard's music is used as fuel, with hypnotic percussive rhythms alternating with gentle passages that act as calm before the storm.
It's a powerful performance from Cruise; we have no difficulty believing him or confusing him with Mr Nice Guy, as he fuses callousness and charisma. Cruise is lithe both physically and mentally, and his Vincent never ceases to surprise us. The contrast between Vincent and Jamie Foxx's Max is as tangible as the glass divider that separates a cab driver from his fare. Max is Everyman, the responsible battler who visits his sick mother in hospital each day, and keeps his dream alive by taking a frequent peek at the photograph of a fantasy island getaway tucked behind the sun visor.
Vincent is immaculately dressed in a well-cut grey suit and open neck white shirt, his hair tinged with grey and beard neatly clipped. Even Max's practised eye in assessing his cab fares cannot guess the profession of his elegant, brief-case toting passenger. 'We have to adapt to the environment,' says Vincent, a fact that Max quickly learns as the evening progresses. Watch for the memorable jazz club scene, when Vincent describes what jazz is like. 'It's off-melody... not what's expected - like tonight.'
All the performances are superb: Jade Pinkett Smith's sympathetic attorney, Irma P. Hall as Max's irrepressible mother, Mark Ruffalo's under-cover FBI agent and Javier Bardem's ruthless Felix. Unavoidably, Max sinks deeper and deeper into the mire and the scene in which Felix recounts a parable about Santa and his helper is one of the film's highlights. Tension mounts as chaos erupts in the crowded nightclub. Then it's nail biting time, as things speed up to a thrilling conclusion. It's a shame the final confrontation borders on melodrama - why couldn't the filmmakers end the film in as intelligent fashion as it began - but it never spoils the experience.
Collateral is every bit as satisfying as a thriller should be, keeping us hanging at every turn. As the credits roll, we are out of breath.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Collateral begins with a lengthy set up to establish two of the key characters: Max (Jamie Foxx) the taxi driver and Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith). Seasoned cinema goers will know that this investment must have a payoff, but we don't expect it to take quite so long. That's no bad thing, though, especially in a film which bends and stretches the boundaries of the action thriller genre with such bravura and intelligence.
Getting the audience off balance and out of its comfort zone, writer Stuart Beattie and director Michael Mann [Heat, The Insider, Ali] introduce the assassin Vincent (Tom Cruise) in a novel manner, and continue to keep him on a new, cool leash. This guy is so cool he could reverse global warming. He has a salt and pepper crew cut and a tightly controlled beard. This matches his tightly controlled persona, and he wears a crisp white shirt under an immaculately tailored light grey suit. Wait a minute; he's about to do five hits in a row in downtown Los Angeles ... well, maybe he's ultra neat at his job, to match his clinical and calculating personality. Hmmm.
But the conversations this man has with his taxi driver are probing, gripping, intimate. It's like watching a shrink deconstruct a client. Cabbie and hit man; a bloody buddy movie? How many action thrillers take a detour to Max's hospitalised mum? And with a sense of humour. In fact, at this stage you may think the film is going to lurch into black comedy. Well, it does, but it lurches out again.
Then the film slams into action mode with a body taking the taxi by surprise. This is when Max learns the dangerous truth about his generous fare, Vincent, who has hired him for the entire night shift. Still the style of stainless steel as Vincent continues his deadly round, but now the talk gives way to tension and action.
Superbly shot by Australia's Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, Collateral uses every inventive slick to give us a new angle on the genre - and a new look at Los Angeles. Driven by James Newton Howard's score, the genre elements are balanced by the less conventional aspects. At one stage during the cab ride, Vincent points out to a shocked Max that 10,000 people are killed before sunset in Rwanda yet Max is more upset about a fat crim dying than he is about those innocents. And there's Max's dream of his own limo business, and his fantasy island (photo on sunvisor) to which he escapes every few minutes... these are details that adorn novels, usually, and good films.
Michael Mann-ages to bring this sort of conversation into this high concept Hollywood genre film, thanks of course to Tom Cruise, without losing his audience. But this is a double edged sword for him: in the last reel, Cruise's Vincent becomes a demonic antagonist rampaging through an office tower to kill his final target. His behaviour here is so alien to everything that he's been before, I am tempted to surmise that studio executives persuaded Mann to turn Vincent into yet another nasty villain, all the better to bring out the boo-hiss elements as we count down to the showdown. Until then, he was so cool, so rational, so accurate with his weapons he could shoot a dozen moving targets in a crowded dance club, now he misses at close range. Before, he was so much more in control, and ... intelligent.
We expected more from this screenplay. The film lets itself down in the last reel, and the irony is that this is the only time Vincent's smart grey suit gets bloodied and ripped. A bit. You could write a thesis about all this (and Max nearly does it for us) as the film upends expectations about all its characters.
Much to enjoy and to think about in this ambitious film, more's the pity it's spoilt by a predictable end game that belongs in a lower, more predictable category of filmmaking.
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CAST: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Farina, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mark Ruffalo, and Paul Adelstein
PRODUCER: Michael Mann, Julie Richardson
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
SCRIPT: Stuart Beattie
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dion Beebe, Paul Cameron
EDITOR: Jim Miller, Paul Rubell
MUSIC: James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Wasco
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 14, 2004