Retro Review: Collateral

Returning to the silver screen for the first time in 3 years, Michael Mann returns to what made him famous, the gritty crime drama.

Mann’s best films were always housed in a gritty underground themes that produced some of the most unique scenes and memories of dialogue. In films like “Thief”, “Manhunter” and even in some ways his brilliant “The Insider”, Mann always knew how to flesh out the seediest of characters and take us on an incredible journey.

In Mann’s latest project “Collateral”, struggling dreamer Max (Jamie Foxx) slides in behind the wheel of his L.A. taxicab to begin another long evening shift. After 12 years, Max has ideas of how he can leave his days of a cabbie behind. Everything seems very routine that evening until a steadfast businessman named Vincent (Tom Cruise) crawls into his backseat.

Vincent’s ride begins like any other as the conversation between the passenger and driver which is light and rudimentary. That is until they arrive at Vincent’s first stop. Vincent offers Max more than double his nightly wages to be his escort on five planned stops. Max is reluctant but Vincent is very convincing.

After his offer seems planted, Vincent asks Max to wait as he runs into a building leaving his briefcase in the backseat. Just as Max bites into his lunch while he waits, the cab rocks and the windshield cracks as a body hits the cab’s roof with a massive thud.

Max scrambles from the cab and sees Vincent come barreling out of the building. In a state a shock, Max exclaims, “You killed him!”

Vincent is a contract killer and Max is in way over his head.

What makes Collateral so different from previous Mann projects is that the screenplay isn’t cobbled together by Mann himself. And it is that difference that makes it stand out from his previous crime films.

The cinematography, seedy LA nightlife, music and attention to set detail is all vintage Mann. It feels a lot like an updated version of “Thief” in the textures and visual threads.

But in the characters of Vincent and Max, Mann’s approachability and familiarity seems utterly lost. We hardly know either of these guys even as the story eventually concludes.

In other Mann films, it is all about the tiniest of details and since these characters aren’t his something seems to be lost in their cinematic conception.

Tom Cruise holds back all emotion and moves within Vincent’s skin with a sort of methodical accuracy and determination. But his ultimately the portrayal comes off as hollow and desperate instead of cruel and menacing. He almost came off as an opinionated robot. I never felt threatened or taken by Cruise as this supposed vicious killer. Sure he shoots a lot of people but it was never shocking or gruesome just very quick and methodical almost robotic.

I also never understood why these two needed each other so desperately. Or why Vincent just didn’t plug Max and drop him in the cab’s trunk. I never bought the whole concept that Vincent couldn’t mess up Max’s routine. Hundreds of people disappear each and every day, why did one cabbie matter to Vincent?

Jamie Foxx does bring a sort of light-heartedness to the role of Max but ultimately he seems to be playing the same down on his luck cabbie. I never felt horror in Max which is probably what the film needed to succeed. The audience is supposed to view Vincent through Max’s eyes. I am not sure he was ever shocked to the core by Vincent. I do have to say that he does have great screen presence and does have some good chemistry with co-star Jada Pinkett Smith, his on-screen love interest.

There is some interesting dialogue between Vincent and Max but nothing that really solidifies a foundation to who these guys are.

The best scene in the film had to be the claustrophobic nightclub hit which erupts into a frenzy and in some ways reminded me of 1985’s “Year of the Dragon”. Except I thought the body count should have been higher.

I really do think that if Mann had created these characters than Vincent would have been more menacing and Max would have been more mortified. Since we are talking about the man who created the first screen version of Hannibal Lecter in 1986’s “Manhunter” and the powerless fear of whistleblower Lowell Bergman in 1999’s “The Insider”. I am sure he could have done better.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

One thought on “Retro Review: Collateral

  1. i agree, Mann’s innate ability with details is vey much seen in his films. I loved the dynamic between Max and Vincent though not elaborated for being detailed I’m seeing it in a different angle since they are in a siutation that injects vigilance and quick thinking to survive the Contract killer and the night! Cheers.

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