A stylish, character-driven thriller that remembers it can still be subtle yet unpredictable.
In Los Angeles after dark, a cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) meets the girl of his dreams but can’t muster up the courage to ask her out, another missed opportunity in a life full of dreams just out of reach. After dropping her off and out of his life forever, Max gives his next ride to Vincent (Tom Cruise), a man with five stops to make before catching an early morning flight out of the city. Max’s life is about to change, but how much longer will it last?
Collateral owes a lot to Changing Lanes about how two very different people in a potentially explosive situation can play off one another using their own unique skills and talents. Director Michael Mann takes that tension one step further by putting the audience uncomfortably close to his central players and visualizing his dark story in the glass-towered ghost town of late night Los Angeles. The plot is armed with just enough twists to maintain the tension necessary to keep viewers on the edge of their seat; for those who allow themselves to be sucked in, it can be an exhausting experience by the time the credits roll even with the occasional humor it throws in.
To Mann’s credit, the feel of the finished film is both fantastic yet believable, but the influence of the film’s soundtrack and imagery are both something old and new. Twenty years ago it was called “Miami Vice,” and the darkest episodes of that television series had people talking for weeks afterward. While there shouldn’t be any worry that viewers will run out to buy clothes to look like a hit man or a sweaty cab driver, the film’s soundtrack is happily already in stores.
It’s no secret that Tom Cruise can play a man on the edge, but watching him wallow in it while being conflicted by it is mesmerizing; Vincent isn’t a mindless terminator but a complex character that is equal parts gentleman and sociopath. Jamie Foxx delivers the breakout performance, portraying a vulnerable every-man with pride in his work and dreams of bigger things that manages to stay just content enough not to risk more for what he wants. This is the second time in as many films that Cruise has allowed himself to become the catalyst for another actor to shine, the first being in The Last Samurai for Ken Watanabe.
The rest of the players are first-rate in casting and character, each speaking part getting their moment of humanity in a story full of hardened cops and criminals (watch for the story of “Santa’s Little Helper”). There is plenty of real acting going on here instead of simply relying on dialogue, and what isn’t being said is as much or more affecting as what is. While Cruise was clearly the draw, it is an unexpected Foxx that carries the film; Denzel Washington now has a reason to watch his Oscar-winning back.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)