Collateral director Michael Mann has delivered another slick, edgy, if a little talky, action drama about a hit man who inadvertently involves a hapless cab driver in his one-night killing spree. Let the melee ensue.
Max (Jamie Foxx) is an average Los Angeleno whose been driving a cab for 12 years but who dreams of a better life (don't we all). In what starts out as a typical evening shift for Max--even a promising one when he hits it off with a beautiful passenger, a federal prosecutor named Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith)--things quickly get very, very bad once Vincent (Tom Cruise) gets into Max's cab (why, in a city where owning and driving a car is paramount, is everyone taking cabs? Just wondering). See, Vincent is a contract killer, sent to the City of Angels to bump off five people connected to a drug cartel in one night--and Max turns out to be just the guy to help him accomplish his mission. Circumstances forces Vincent to use Max as his chauffer, thus beginning their surreal journey together through L.A.'s underbelly. It's a tricky game of cat and mouse they play with one another as well as with the LAPD and FBI, racing to intercept them, but ultimately Max has to break out of his little microcosm and realize he's gonna have to play hard ball--or lose everything, including his newfound love interest.
Tom Cruise, a ruthless sociopath? The same guy who just has to flash his kilowatt smile to melt hearts? Say it isn't so! Although Cruise has been known to effectively play unsavory characters on more than one occasion, they are more anti-heroes than anything else, guys who eventually see what schmucks they are being and straighten up, i.e. Charlie Babbitt in Rain Man and Jerry in Jerry Maguire (of course, there's also the vampire Lestat in Interview With the Vampire, but we don't really count effeminate supernatural blood suckers). No, it seems Cruise is finally tackling, for the first time, a stone-cold killer, with uncharacteristic gray hair and salt-and-pepper stubble who efficiently dispatches his victims without a hint of remorse. How refreshing it is. Vincent is the ultimate professional, the best at what he does, and Cruise never overplays the villain (just think what Al Pacino would have done in the part. Oy.) The performance could very well place the charismatic actor on Oscar's short list since the Academy loves it when good guys go bad. As Cruise's counterpart, Foxx also more than holds his own as Vincent's reluctant partner in crime. His quirky and sometimes very comical connection with his co-stars is immediate, whether Max is half-discussing, half-flirting with Annie about the quickest route to downtown Los Angeles (a very inside joke for those Angelenos in the audience) or sparring with Vincent. But Foxx never lets you forget Max is the heart and soul of the film, effectively bringing the character out of the shadows and into true blue heroism.
As the mastermind behind another L.A.-driven gem Heat, Michael Mann has once again stamped his own unique vision of the city and its denizens into our brains with Collateral. ''The whole story takes place between 6 p.m. and about 4 a.m. in this PacRim-diverse and most contemporary of American cities, where coyotes roam the streets as if the layer of civilization is new and temporary,'' Mann explains. ''That's the world I wanted Max and Vincent moving through as the story unfolds This is the collision of two lives in very extreme circumstances. It is a compression of all they have been and who they think they might be, all collapsed into the events of one night. I like the intensity, the immediacy of that '' Mann is definitely strongly focused but is a true genius at creating intimacy within a world of crime and violence. Collateral pulses most of the time, especially in the scenes where Vincent is carrying out his duties, or when the cab is racing down the freeways, with dizzyingly beautiful aerial shots of L.A. But with the more quiet moments, where the camera zooms in oh-so-close and the characters wax oh-so-prophetically, it gets to be a little much. We get it that Max is bored with his life, that he's scared to take risks; we don't need to hear Vincent telling him this again and again. Let's just get to the good stuff.
Even if the characters want to talk more than they should, Collateral is still an ultimate thrill ride through the mean streets of L.A., powered by a killer performance (pun intended) from Tom Cruise.