Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)


Tom Cruise (Vincent), Jamie Foxx (Max), Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie), Mark Ruffalo (Fanning), Javier Bardem (Felix). Rating: 15. Running time: 120 minutes.

Los Angeles really is a sprawling, outrageously spacious metropolis. It vastly exceeds both London and Paris for brute land mass on any proper measurement, and, as in Taxi Driver for New York, when viewed from the perspective of a yellow cab it becomes another one of America’s ‘open sewers.’ We’re told anecdotally that a man passed away on the transit system a few years back, and it took 7 hours for anyone to notice, or at least act on, the fact he was dead. Collateral gives us no reason to doubt this. The main difference to Taxi Driver, however, is that this time the guy called Max steering us through this hell-hole is a lot more noble, even if equally flawed. The problem is the passenger accompanying him – a hitman called Vincent (played, it must be said, superbly by Tom Cruise), who is trained to execute people with the utmost precision (two rapid fire shots in the stomach, one in the head), and whose job for the night consists of murdering five key witnesses and lawyers involved in the prosecution of his client the next day.

Max, then, becomes the puppet. He soon learns what’s going on when whilst waiting at the first stop, a body comes crashing down and almost flies through his windscreen. What follows is a night of personal and moral hell, as Vincent jibes him over how he did sweet FA when he learnt of the Rwandan genocide, and yet feels concern when some local informant drug dealers dirtying his city are fast tracked out of this world. Not only that, but Max convinces himself he’s only working as a cab driver to tie himself over as he plans a luxury limousine business in the future, despite having done the job for a decade and having already convinced his mother he had moved on. In Vincent’s Raskolonikovian eyes he’s as much of a cowardly nobody as the other four million he lives surrounded by but doesn’t know in the slightest. Everything changes for Max, however, when quite plausibly upon reflection, the killing spree is personalised and brought home to him, the details of which it is worth omitting here.

Reading plot synposes for Michael Mann movies, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a pretty boring director. On the surface, so many of his films – Heat, Public Enemies, and then this one, Collateral – appear to be little more than thoughtless exhibits of professional criminal activity. It’s a delight to slowly discover, then, that nothing could be further from the truth. Michael Mann doesn’t do brainless bullets, even if his characters shoot them. The action is always impeccably filmed and placed, but, crucially, never is it of prime importance over and above the story and character studies that good films of this kind are necessarily premised on. Collateral takes that good formula, and Mann makes sure it excels once again.

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