Should I Watch..? 'Collateral'
What's the big deal?
Collateral is an action thriller film released in 2004 and was co-produced and directed by Michael Mann, the director of crime thriller Heat. The movie stars Tom Cruise in a rare villain role as Vincent, a professional hitman who hires mild-mannered taxi driver Jamie Foxx as he makes his way through LA fulfilling contracts. The film also stars Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Barry Shabaka Henley with cameo appearances from Jason Statham and Javier Bardem. The film is also notable for being one of the first feature-films to be shot on HD digital cameras although the nightclub scene was shot on 35mm. Released to critical acclaim with both Foxx and Cruise's performances being singled out, Collateral went on to earn more than $217 million worldwide and two Academy Award nominations.
What's it about?
Max Durocher is a mild-mannered taxi driver operating in LA with dreams of operating his luxury limo company. After dropping off federal prosecutor Annie, Max's next fare is the sharp-suited Vincent who offers Max a big pay-off in exchange for only working for him that evening. Despite knowing the regulations, Max finds it impossible to turn down the offer and drives Vincent to the first of his five stops for the evening.
While waiting for Vincent to emerge, a corpse drops onto Max's pristine cab from a balcony and Vincent's true intentions are revealed - he is a professional hitman who intends to murder five people across LA with Max unwittingly driving him to his various stops. Now trapped by the ruthless Vincent in his cab, Max finds himself unable to stop Vincent's murder spree or signal for help from the police now tracking a mysterious trail of bodies across the city...
Barry Shabaka Henley
Release Date (UK)
17 September, 2004
Action, Crime, Drama, Thriller
Academy Award Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Foxx), Best Film Editing
What's to like?
Anyone who knows Mann's other work will recognise his style here, a crisp and ultra-realistic thriller that grips from the beginning and simply refuses to let go. The digital cinematography gives Collateral almost a documentary feel to it and the film's stripped-back screenplay delivers even more realism to the film. Amid all this, Cruise delivers a performance of controlled menace that is totally unexpected. His hair dyed grey and his famous smile absent from the picture, he gives the role of Vincent an air of calm, chilling professionalism and makes him a truly memorable character. And while he doesn't offer as much, Foxx is equally superb opposite as Max whose increasing panic is etched painfully onto his face.
You can tell when everyone is on song with a film because it is plain to see and annoyingly for people like me, there isn't a great deal to criticise. The supporting cast, led by Ruffalo and Pinkett-Smith, also deliver first-rate performances with even some cast members making a lasting impression in just one scene. I loved Henley's jazz club owner and Irma P. Hall's brief appearance as Max's frail mother Ida - both interact with Vincent in different ways but both of their scenes are simply magic. The film is a fine example of how a really great thriller makes you watch every scene and absorb every line of dialogue. You hang on every moment, jump at every thrill and feel the impact of every violent encounter.
- Jason Statham has a brief cameo at the start of the film as Vincent's contact at the airport. It is a popular theory that this is an unofficial appearance as Frank Martin, Statham's character in The Transporter movies.
- Mann's vision for the character of Vincent was someone who would not be remembered or recognised by anyone. To prepare for the role, Cruise had to deliver FedEx packages in a marketplace without being recognised.
- Mann and screenwriter Stuart Beattie constructed backstories for all the major characters including photos of their hometown and family histories. When Cruise signed onto the picture, he was impressed that so much of his character had already been completed.
What's not to like?
Having said that, there are a couple of minor niggles lurking in this picture although you'll probably argue that these are more about personal taste than any fault of the film-makers. The camerawork is inconsistent as the film can go from smooth to violent juddering which obscures the action on screen. And speaking of action, there isn't much of it. The film is much more of a slow-burning thriller, gradually ratcheting up the tension until an inevitably climatic shoot-out that smacks faintly of an ill-thought-out cop-out ending.
But these are minor issues, like I said, and don't detract from the overall quality found in Collateral. It might feel like a low budget indie version of more ambitious Hollywood fare like The Departed or Mann's next picture Miami Vice but if anything, that's part of the film's charm. I like it because it doesn't feel that Hollywood, proving that a decent thriller doesn't need almighty explosions or gratuitous sex in order to work. This is stripped back, almost threadbare and deprived of the usual glamour that infects these sort of movies, it works even better.
Should I watch it?
What it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in other departments. Collateral is possibly my favourite Michael Mann movie, a tense and immersive experience that casually draws you in and won't let you go until the sun rises at the end. Loaded with fantastic performances throughout the cast, the film's simplicity helps to make this one of the best thrillers of the Noughties and essential viewing for anyone with a love of cinema. Compared with more bigger budgeted examples of the genre, this stands head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Great For: mild mannered taxi drivers, independent film-makers, shattering Cruise's good-guy image
Not So Great For: action junkies, anyone scared of the dark
What else should I watch?
Anyone wondering why Cruise isn't a baddie more often will be out of luck. The only other film where he indulges in the dark side is the 1994 adaptation of Interview With The Vampire. Even when he's playing a Nazi officer as he did in Valkyrie, he's the kind of Nazi that plots to assassinate Hitler. Cruise has made a living out of playing the smiling, all-American hero which is why his performance in Collateral literally comes out of nowhere. With a few braver casting directors, we might have seen more performances like this. Oh well.
Since Foxx picked up the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Ray Charles in Ray, Foxx has rarely left the limelight and nor should he, given his long rise to superstardom. From action roles in films like The Kingdom and White House Down to more dramatic leading roles in Django Unchained, Foxx has become one of the few leading men of colour operating in Hollywood that has become bankable. Not bad for someone with films like Booty Call on his resume!
© 2017 Benjamin Cox