Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Collateral Review

Los Angeles is shrouded in darkness, yet when it glows it is impossibly beautiful. A city that roughly four million people call home and yet Michael Mann portrays it as feeling strangely empty at times, city streets not only lacking a palpable buzz but no real life at all. One high speed sequence is surrounded by rows of parked cars with no movement in sight, the chaos centered solely around his characters which presents a dystopian quality to a stylish noir.

I hesitate to refer to Michael Mann as a personal favorite filmmaker of mine, because he doesn't always hit the right notes with me. When he does, though, the work is memorable and spectacular, from Manhunter in the 80's to Heat and The Insider in the 90's. Inexplicably I am yet to see Thief, his feature length debut that I have been told repeatedly is a true gem, but I will address that sooner rather than later. With Collateral he proves that his ability to unleash some immensely enjoyable cinema on the world during another decade, a film released in 2004 that showcases two stars working at the top of their games, Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

Cruise plays Vincent, a contract killer on a mission, five hits in one night and he needs a driver to get him from place to place. Foxx plays Max, the cab driver unlucky enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time when he picks up Vincent and finds himself serving as an accomplice to calculated and cold blooded murders. The two men couldn't be more different in their attitudes towards life and their demeanor, but this isn't some buddy cop type setup that is nauseatingly predictable and tired. It's quite fascinating to watch the nuance in the two performances as they display their strengths, their weaknesses and their different ideas of morality and the right way to live their lives.

One specific scene is so beautifully symbolic and unforgettable and it involves two coyotes crossing the road in front of the cab. At first Max and Vincent spot one, the only sign of life around them on the streets of Los Angeles, but what really grabs Vincent's attention is the second coyote that enters the frame soon after and follows behind its partner. Vincent has lived his life and done his job as a lone wolf, a man who belongs in a pack yet has always avoided relying on another person to help him along the way, and this sight of the two animals together is handled masterfully. A subtle reminder that trying to survive these streets and the dangers that fill a life like Vincent's alone isn't wise.

An undeniably cool, smartly crafted crime thriller from a director that knows how to handle such material, I really need to catch up with all things Mann and form my own conclusions on the ones I avoided because of some poor word of mouth. I remember people telling me to skip Collateral, that it really wasn't anything special, and I now realize that couldn't be further from the truth. Pretty much everything about this film is special, a dazzling display of photography, confident direction and spot on performances that work together to form top notch, entertaining cinema.



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    1. Yeah see, I love Tom Cruise the actor, don't care for him at all as a person, but I separate the two in my mind. I will gladly watch a great film with him in it and not think about his personal life once during the movie.

      Glad you enjoyed this one Donna, it's interesting how one short and subtle scene in a film can resonate with a person so deeply. It's pretty great.