Collateral (2004) / Thriller-Action

MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 119 min.

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Javier Bardem, Bruce McGill, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Barry Shabaka Henley
Director: Michael Mann

Screenplay: Stuart Beattie
Review published August 9, 2004

Collateral 2004Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) isn't the most prolific of directors, turning out a new film every three to five years, but when he does, they prove to be worth the wait. Such is the case with Collateral, a high-octane, twisty action-thriller that boasts a fine performance by Tom Cruise (The Last Samurai, Minority Report) and yes, Jamie Foxx (Shade, Ali) is equally terrific. With a cool, stark delivery, Mann utilizes tools other directors rarely use to their advantage, with beautifully shot sights and sounds of the city, an energized popular soundtrack, and a deliberate pace to give enough time to draw out his characters to their fullest extent. It's as funny a violent thriller as Tarantino on a good day, with the gritty visceral pleasures of Training Day or The Terminator, that locks you in with a riveting intensity that often has you laughing out loud in nervous relief.

The setting is Los Angeles, where an impeccable cab driver named Max (Foxx) picks up the well-dressed and icy-cool customer, Vincent (Cruise), who makes him a most unusual offer for his excellent, quality ride -- hundreds of dollars in cash for use of his services for the evening. Max is a man of ambition, trying for years to jumpstart his dream of owning his own limo service, so he accepts the offer, only to be snapped to reality by the horrifying sights and sounds of a man falling from a four-story window onto his immaculately well-kept taxi. Shortly after, Max is finally introduced to what he didn't know he had bargained for -- he is going to be the unwilling chauffeur to a hired hit man out to put several Los Angelinos on ice for reasons he cannot comprehend.

One of the main strengths of Collateral is its subtle seduction, which lures you in and keeps you locked down for the ride (very much like Max) with a style that often defies standard thriller clichés. It keeps you on your toes, as you are never quite sure where things are going from one moment to the next, and with a genuinely likeable character like Max, you're apprehensive about his fate as well. In an odd fashion, the allure of a highly skilled assassin makes Vincent a character that is scary yet admirable, as he serves as both the antagonist as well as protector of Max throughout the course of the evening. It's never quite clear if Max will earn his release for a job well done at the end of the evening, or if he will meet his fate with a bullet in the head so there are no loose ends.

I've already compared Collateral to Training Day for its comparable walk on the Los Angeles wild side, but unfortunately the two movies share one more trait -- it falters in its final scenes. When an unpredictable thriller finally succumbs to standard formula theatrics, embarrassingly akin to the aforementioned The Terminator, there is a deflating of intensity due to familiarity that makes for a climax that, while certainly exciting, doesn't quite reach the fever-pitch that such a magnificent build-up would warrant.

Still, Collateral certainly ranks as one of the best thrillers of recent years, drawing a wealth of entertainment from its meager storyline through terrific characterizations and the occasional moment of pithy contemplation. Credit Mann for making another sleek and often beautiful film, engaging his actors to deliver their very best in roles you're not accustomed to seeing them in, and allowing his characters the complexity they rarely get in action-driven vehicles anymore.

Qwipster's rating:

©2004 Vince Leo