Sunday, April 26, 2015

Collateral (2004)

Director: Michael Mann                                Writer: Stuart Beattie
Film Score: James Newton Howard             Cinematography: Deon Beeebe
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith and Mark Ruffalo

Michael Mann has had an interesting career in films, though probably more successful as a producer than a director. Still, he has done the occasional great film, and Collateral is definitely one of them. In fact, it’s arguably his best film. In a way, this can be seen as one of the strangest buddy pictures ever made. Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise work beautifully together and each seems to make the other better. Part of that is due to Mann’s meticulous preparation, in which every single thought and action by the characters are completely seen through a backstory that is never part of the actual text of the film. The entire film takes place over the course of one night, and the profound changes it makes for Foxx is wonderful to watch. Cruise’s machine-like character drags Foxx along whether he want’s to or not, and Foxx’s character finally has to make some decisions in his life rather than drifting along in complacency and fear. The project was kicking around Hollywood for quite a while and nothing ever came of it until Russell Crowe expressed interest in playing the hit man. That’s when Mann came onboard, but his thorough preparation caused delays that made Crowe bow out and immediately Mann went to Cruise. The original setting of the film was New York City, but Mann man wisely moved it to L.A., an area he is more adept at working in.

The film opens at LAX, with Tom Cruise walking through the airport and exchanging briefcases with Jason Statham in a bit part. From there the scene shifts to a cab company garage, with Jamie Foxx cleaning out his cab for the night ahead. He picks up Jada Pinkett Smith at the airport and takes her into downtown, to the federal court building. During their conversation the audience learns about his dream of owning a limousine company. She gives him her number and as he is thinking about her, Tom Cruise hops in and wants to hire him for the night. At his first stop, Foxx parks in the alley and pulls out a Subway sandwich to eat. Next thing he knows, a body falls on his windshield from the apartment above. But Cruise needs Foxx to take him around to his other hits, so he has him put the body in the trunk and forces him at gunpoint to finish the night. A few minutes later police detective Mark Ruffalo pays a call on the apartment, only to find out his snitch is missing, and that he is probably dead though there’s not body. The next hit is a lawyer in a high-rise apartment building, and when Foxx tries to get away Cruise has to kill a couple more people. At the same time, Ruffalo’s investigation leads to a drug case he’s working which puts him in conflict with a federal investigation run by Bruce McGill and Jessica Ferrarone and all of the threads eventually come together at the end for an incredibly exciting climax. But the film’s nowhere near being over. The final twenty-five minutes of the film is an absolutely riveting game of cat and mouse as Foxx and Cruise play to the death.

The plot, by veteran screenwriter Stuart Beattie is as good as it gets, with plenty of surprises and tons of tension. There are some absolutely brilliant scenes in the film as well. One of them is some nice misdirection in a jazz club with trumpeter Barry Shabaka Henley, who acquits himself well. But the best takes place after Foxx finally screws up his courage and destroys all of Cruise’s information, and the killer sends him in to get the information directly from the drug lord the feds are after, Javier Bardem. Foxx’s performance in the scene is nothing short of magnificent. It’s difficult to know whether Cruise’s name in the film, Vincent, is an in-joke about his character in The Color of Money, Martin Scorsese’s sequel to The Hustler, or just accidental. Cruise even has the same hairstyle, this time in gray. The film was nominated for two Oscars, one for editing and one for Jamie Foxx as supporting actor. Of course Cruise hasn’t been nominated since 1999, and he is probably never going to again despite some increasingly impressive screen performances. The supporting actor nod for Foxx seems designed to try to get him the statuette when one considers he was more of the lead in the film than Cruise. But all of the acting is uniformly excellent, as one has the impression that Michael Mann wouldn’t allow anything but excellent performances to make it to the screen.

Despite his limited success, there’s no denying Mann’s talent for visuals, which is on full display here. Mann’s LA is visually palpable, from the shimmering sunset to the grey twilight of night that is caused by the lights of the urban sprawl. The aerial shots are impressive, and he also has a very nice penchant for close ups that is typically only seen in independent films. Another fascinating aspect of the photography is Mann’s use of the widescreen when he is shooting the scene with Foxx and Bardem. Rather than keeping them together in a two shot, he cuts back and forth between them. What is so remarkable is that Bardem, facing right, is positioned all the way to the right of the screen, and Foxx, looking left, is positioned all the way to the left. It’s disorienting at first, but is utterly unique and ultimately impressive. Mann also has a penchant for the eighties style music that infused his earlier successes, namely Manhunter and the television series Miami Vice, and the great James Newton Howard delivered the same in his film score. Mann received the best director award from the National Board of Review, though he was snubbed by the Academy. But it doesn’t matter. The work stands for itself, and Collateral remains a powerful and important work by a gifted director.

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