During the course of a night a Los Angeles cab driver, Max (Jamie Foxx), is forced to chauffeur around a hitman, Vincent (Tom Cruise), while the latter undertakes errands of a murderous nature. Max soon realises the nature of his new acquaintance's targets and decides he must intervene.
Michael Mann is one of Hollywood's most interesting and significant directors having made some of the best contemporary dramas of the last twenty years. Relishing the opportunity to make a 'smaller' film after his last two biopics – The Insider and Ali.
Collateral is his interpretation of Australian writer Stuart Beattie's pulpy, neo-noir script. Mann's career has spanned three decades of film and television production, including TV series Starsky & Hutch (1975), Miami Vice (1984) and Crime Story (1986) to features Manhunter (1986), Heat (1995) and The Insider (1999). He has been responsible for much in modern film not the least of which was transforming both Will Smith and Russell Crowe into bonafide actors and, superstars. In Collateral, Mann asks the same of Tom Cruise, pushing the actor towards one of his best career performances, teaming up for the first time with 'Top Gun Tom' and recognising what Cruise does does best on film: play a bad guy. (See Magnolia, Interview With A Vampire and the first half of The Last Samurai).
In Collateral Cruise is Vincent, a suave, silver-haired hitman, a fabulous sociopath character who thinks he has the drop on life. Employed to take out five key witnesses before a drug trial, for this night of unmitigated violence Vincent recruits an unwitting accomplice, cabdriver Max, played by comedic actor Jamie Foxx (Ali). Foxx brings a depth and warmth to this complex central role and both actors give great, taut performances in what just about amounts to a two-hander set inside a cab.
Collateral is another Michael Mann opus, a movie that spectacularly maps this one night on the LA streets, played out in real time. It possesses many of the elements that made Heat, Mann's best film to date, such an exciting and engaging film: dramatic and intimate dialogue, an elegant visual design, sonic sophistication, excellent performances and that 'harmony' and synchronicity Mann is famous for. Like Pacino and De Niro in Heat, the Max and Vincent characters complement each other as different sides of the same coin. It is no wonder then that Mann prefers to call Collateral, his eighth feature, an 'existential drama'.
Although Mann made substantial rewrites to Stuart Beattie's screenplay, Collateral still goes the way of many a pulpy neo-noir before it, with a more than predictable outcome. But he clearly relished the challenge of turning what really is a B-Grade script into an A-Grade movie event. He is a risk taker – as anyone who has seen his 1981 supernatural Nazi movie The Keep can attest – and an innovator, one of the few legitimate auteurs left in Hollywood. Mann enlisted Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe (Chicago) and co-DOP Paul Cameron (Man On Fire) to help him make history with Collateral, one of the first Hollywood features to be shot almost entirely in high definition digital video, not just because he could, but for aesthetic reasons. According to Mann, 'high def' was the best way to communicate the emotions inherent to Collateral's story and also to capture the unique night landscape of LA, something he has really been obsessed with as an artist since his first feature, Thief (1981).
Collateral is not a perfect film but it is a near-perfect movie experience. Mann brings his signature poetic style to an exciting morality play, and it is an opportunity to see the collaboration of great technicians and artists at work.