Collateral (2004)
March 12, 2018 6:43 PM - Subscribe

A cab driver finds himself the hostage of an engaging contract killer as he makes his rounds from hit to hit during one night in Los Angeles.

The Guardian: Collateral is a long, dark night of three souls as Foxx becomes inextricably involved in Cruise's nefarious schemes - it's an intense character study that also works in triplicate as a film noir and a road movie. Mann takes us to a wide variety of LA locations, contrasting an evocative empty jazz club with time for an extended, quiet anecdote about Miles Davis and a frenetic shoot-out in a Korean nightclub.

Mann's choice of music is inspired - Bach and Davis apart, it's obscure but apt. The film ratchets up the tension carefully, one notch at a time and if Cruise is impressive, it's left to Jamie Foxx to surprise us all with an intense performance of great conviction.

Rolling Stone: This clash of light and shadow is made even more gripping by Mann's inspired decision to have cinematographers Paul Cameron and Dion Beebe shoot eighty percent of the film on high-definition digital video. The camerawork is groundbreaking, able to penetrate the murkiest depths. Nighttime in L.A., complete with three coyotes crossing in front of Max's cab in mockery of the city's thin hold on civilization, becomes Mann's visionary peek into hell. Like Cruise and Foxx, Collateral wants to get under your skin. Does it ever.

Slate: His thrillers pose the question: What is a man? A thief, a cop, an assassin: That might be what he does—but is that what he is? Is he free to choose, or does a man gotta do what a man's gotta do? One thing that's clear is that Mann's gotta do what Mann's gotta do, and that's give these pointy-headed conundrums a throbbing backbeat and the moodiest visuals in Hollywood. Men's fashion magazines have followed this director ever since his Miami Vice days. The way he frames his characters to bring out both their alienation and their glamour makes you think, "That is God's loneliest man—and where can I get that suit?"

Slant: The sleek, arresting opening shot of Collateral shows a confident Tom Cruise arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, his hair silvery-gray and his square jaw covered in stubble. This singularly driven man walks through an immaculate, well-composed space—yes, this is a film that immediately announces itself as a Michael Mann creation. What with his focused energy, perfectionism, and cool detachment hidden beneath his fake mega-watt smile, Cruise’s image seems like the perfect match for Mann. Indeed, the actor makes a striking impression as Vincent, a hired assassin flown into Los Angeles to eliminate five witnesses in one night. Dressed to the nines in a sharp gray suit, he’s an atonal killer stripped of the overkill flamboyance of Cruise’s Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and the method posturing of his Magnolia bad son.

Like Robert De Niro’s impeccably controlled thief in Mann’s Heat, Cruise is all discipline, his energy taut and controlled.
NYTimes: Clad in the sort of form-fitting, slightly too-short slacks favored more by modern dancers and Gene Kelly than (I assume) contract killers, he plays Vincent from the outside in, as a citadel of physical perfection and ability.

That makes the star an ideal fit not merely for this role but for this director, whose male characters inevitably express themselves more through their deeds than their words. One of the signatures of Mr. Mann's films is that while his male characters tend to be tight-lipped (if often very loud and certainly dogged in their beliefs), the director's visual style and musical choices verge on the extreme, at times the operatic. Filled with incessant rhythms, washes of gaudy color and heartbreaking beauty, the films boldly convey the passions and deep feelings the director's men rarely voice. It's the sort of expressionistic gambit that pointedly makes the case that movies create meaning both with what's on the scripted page and with images of palm trees bobbing against a moonlit sky and the everyday Los Angeles surrealism of coyotes prowling an otherwise urban street.

Pitched between interludes of anxious intimacy and equally nerve-shredding set pieces, ''Collateral'' scores its points with underhand precision. The film is about a lot of different things, about how Los Angeles lights up at night, how cars become prostheses of ourselves and how driving with the radio on can be bliss. But as with all of Mr. Mann's movies, ''Collateral'' is finally about men and work, and about how being a man is itself a kind of job.

Roger Ebert: Cruise and the filmmakers bring a great deal more to his character than we expect in a thriller. What he reveals about Vincent, deliberately and unintentionally, leads up to a final line that is worthy of one of those nihilistic French crime movies from the 1950s. Jamie Foxx's work is a revelation. I've thought of him in terms of comedy ("Booty Call," "Breakin' all the Rules"), but here he steps into a dramatic lead and is always convincing and involving. Now I'm looking forward to his playing Ray Charles; before, I wasn't so sure. And observe the way Jada Pinkett Smith sidesteps the conventions of the Meet Cute and brings everyday plausibility to every moment of Annie's first meeting with Max. This is a rare thriller that's as much character study as sound and fury.


Streaming on Netflix

Filming Locations

Collateral: A Case Study In Ethical Subjectivity
posted by MoonOrb (12 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always thought this was a very solid movie. I don't like Cruise personally, but this was one of his better roles. Although it might say something about the man that he embodies such a cruel role so well while unconvincing in more morally upstanding roles. I'm sure if I took the time to think about it I could come up with similar actors who are not as controversial, but regardless, I liked his work for this movie.

I actually thought Foxx was alright. Likeable, but nothing very exceptional. But that's the character. He was amazing as Ray Charles.
posted by numaner at 7:03 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

My strongest memory of this film is that, when Tom Cruise went topless - "He's in denial of his age/the current age of action movies."

I mean, good for him (and HGH the linked article is wishy washy - HGH is awesome for decreasing recovery time after strength training especially for 40+ yo men, among other things).

This is also just another take on Parker which a decade of other films round the same time also explored; Mel Gibson's Payback (1999), Owen's Shoot 'Em Up (2007), Jane's Give 'em Hell Malone (2009), Statham's straight-up Parker (2013)... I thought that there were a couple more but they don't come to mind. Lucky Number Slevin with Willis might fit?

Did enjoy Foxx's role as a "civilian" and his take on "what the fuck" offended sensibilities. But it also kinda felt Samuel L. Jackson generic.
posted by porpoise at 8:08 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Enjoyed it at the time, haven’t rewatched since. But I could go on and on about how much l love Mann’s crime films in general, especially _Heat_.

It’s interesting to think of this as a bootleg Parker film. I hadn’t made that connection. Have to watch again with that in mind, and track down those other bootlegs porpoise mentioned.
posted by kreinsch at 11:22 PM on March 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I quite enjoyed this film in the theater, but haven't watched it since. Wonder how it would hold up...
posted by praemunire at 9:54 AM on March 13, 2018

Just like Miami Vice, a brilliant film bizarrely undercut by how much Michael Mann likes Chris Cornell.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 10:06 AM on March 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

My strongest memory of this film is near the end, I think, when Foxx has been able to get hold of a weapon and is pointing it at Cruz, who starts talking about how Foxx isn't the kind of guy who could shoot someone - only to be rudely interrupted by Foxx taking a shot at him. I'm sure it was done in other places before this, but it just stood out to me as someone finally avoiding the stupid "monologuing villain talking his way out of a tight spot" trope that I had seen too much of.

I recall liking this film, but have never sought it out again. Which makes me wonder why.
posted by nubs at 10:19 AM on March 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

There is a magnificent moment late in the film where Cruise crashes through a window and totally busts his ass on an office chair, just completely eats carpet. It's amazing.

That's all I have to say about Michael Mann's Collateral.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:18 PM on March 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I had heard (and IMDB trivia backs me up) that Tom Cruise’s fall was a legitimate accident that Mann elected to leave in.
posted by liet at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I remember watching this a couple years ago and thinking of it as one of the last big films focusing on LA in which LA at night still looked like LA at night. Because the replacement of the old (yellow) sodium lamps with bluish LEDs really changes the atmosphere. I think there was an FPP or two on that changeover.

So, yeah, lots of LA-at-night nostalgia in this flick.
posted by Justinian at 6:00 PM on March 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I LOVE this movie. It was the first movie that made me actually respect Tom Cruise as an actor. I love the way it's shot, the way music is used (no surprise in a Mann movie), the fact that it *SPOILERS* kills off a main character in such a casual, sudden way and that whole storyline is just...over.

And the Miles Davis conversation scene in the bar....that's one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. It's so tense and compelling and well-written and the acting and editing is exceptional.

Even the somewhat heavy-handed bit with the coyote just works.
posted by biscotti at 1:59 PM on March 15, 2018

I’m another fan of the movie and also of the soundtrack, which gave me a lot of songs I still enjoy playing. It was so solid on Cruise’s part and was so beautifully shot. It had this pleasant blurry insomniac feeling to it.
posted by PussKillian at 4:08 PM on March 17, 2018

I liked this very much for the first two acts. The third act, with the Audioslave music sharing space with the pulsing James Newton Howard score kind of devolves into a generic chase scene.

More than that, though, the attempt to "make it personal" for Max by having Annie be the target undercut the interesting moral comparison between him and Vincent.

I would have rather seen a third act stripped of all Hollywood glamor where Max can either let someone he doesn't know whose life/death do not affect him be killed, or he can stick with his moral compass.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:30 PM on March 2

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