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Collateral (2004)

It started like any other night.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 120 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

If you have a lot of money, it is wise to invest it in something secure and dependable. This is why it pays to cast Tom Cruise in any big-budget production – for despite his rise to stardom in a film called ‘Risky Business’, Cruise has shown an unwavering consistency in his career that guarantees he is alway a safe bet when it comes to making a film bankable. Cruise, you see, always plays the same – EXACTLY the same – character. Epitomised by that dazzling grin and slight shortness of stature, Cruise is invariably a brash, self-confident charmer with a mere hint of vulnerability – think can-do salesmanship accompanied by just the tiniest scruple of doubt. Yet if Cruise’s performance never really changes, there are occasionally films which exploit this by placing him in unusual positions and bringing out the cracks beneath his cocky all-American surface – films like Magnolia, ‘Eyes Wide Shut’, and now Michael Mann’s ‘Collateral’.

With his sharp suit, designer stubble and elegant briefcase, Vincent (Cruise) is clearly a businessman, and from the moment he has been picked up at the airport by dreamy cabdriver Max (Jamie Foxx), Vincent is already at work, persuading Max to drive him overnight to five different LA destinations in exchange for $600. Vincent’s business, however, turns out to be contract killing, and he is not so much hiring Max as taking him hostage as he works down his list of targets – mostly witnesses due to testify in a Federal trial the following morning. With Vincent’s bodycount rising, and the LAPD, the Feds, and a gang of ruthless Mexicans closing in, Max must keep his wits about him – and connect with his own inner Tom Cruise – in order to reduce the collateral damage.

Cruise makes a compelling killer in ‘Collateral’ simply by playing the part like any one of his other on-screen winners – showing that the cutthroat determination and maverick individualism required to fulfil the American dream can equally produce a nightmare. Yet the real star of ‘Collateral’, even if his name and face are less prominent on the marquee, is Foxx, whose character (unlike Cruise’s) actually develops and changes on this bumpy ride through the dark underside of the city. Max’s transformation from cocooned dreamer to self-assured doer is the film’s main narrative arc, and in the scene where he meets crimelord Felix (Javier Bardem) while pretending to be the hitman that Felix has hired, Foxx metamorphoses before our eyes as quickly and totally as a werewolf, in a performance worthy of an Oscar.

Once again, as with his earlier ‘Heat’, Mann takes a conventional thriller premise and turns it into a masterclass in taut filmmaking. Key to this is an almost tangible sense of claustrophobia produced by tight plotting – the action is limited to a single night and largely confined to the interior of a cab, with the biggest shoot-out taking place in a sweatily crowded nightclub. By choosing unusual locations, and capturing the city’s eerie nighttime glow on high-definition digital cameras, Mann defamiliarises one of the most filmed places in the world, effectively doing for Los Angeles what Scorsese did for New York in ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘After Hours’. It is a pity, however, that here, as in ‘Heat’, Mann allows things to fizzle out with an ending that, compared to what has preceded, is decidedly anticlimactic.

It's Got: A cab driver who wishes he was on a tropical island, a ruthless hitman, five jobs, one night, and a disconnected LA that barely notices or cares.

It Needs: An ending at least the equal of all that has preceded.


A single LA night compacted into two gripping hours of four big hits and one anticlimactic miss.