'Collateral' features the career best performances of two seemingly different actors: Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. Cruise is a heavy-hitter; every one of his movies usually makes good dough, and a lot are good. Foxx, up until now, has been reduced to your typical funny black guy roles in nearly every one of his movies. When you hear their names mentioned for the same movie, you don't think it's stupid or impossible, just that the product movie will be some sort of run of the mill, action/comedy buddy picture.
When I first read the synopsis for 'Collateral' I thought I knew what it would be like: a PG-13 action comedy that is more concerned with A) getting stuff blowed up good and B) setting its characters up as very cool instead of very complex. It only makes sense
I mean; Adam Sandler was in Foxx's role for a while before dropping out.
Anyway, I was wrong, and glad about it.
The plot follows Max (Jamie Foxx), a quiet, mild-mannered L.A. cab driver that knows all the best routes in town. This becomes clear early on in a tender scene where he picks up a lawyer (Jada Pinkett Smith) and they bet on whose routes will get them to her destination faster. On the way they talk and get to know each other, and we get to know Max. Sure, Smith's character has significance later on, but this scene would be just as important if she didn't.
Max's next fare is Vincent (Tom Cruise), a grey-haired, hard looking real estate agent who, judging by his facial hair, looks like he spent his last two days on an airplane. He convinces and pays Max to drive him around to his five real estate deals that night. Max is reluctant, but Vincent is a fine-looking guy so he accepts.
The next thing that happens is a surprise. If you have somehow managed to dodge all information on this film then don't read on.
While parked in an alley waiting for Vincent on his first job, a body suddenly falls onto the top of Max's cab. Max is shocked, and when Vincent appears in the alleyway he cries for help. Vincent is cool and unaffected though, and he explains to Max that he is not, in fact, a real estate agent but a hit man, and Max is his getaway driver, whether he likes it or not.
What follows is a complex character study and a simple thriller packed into one night, most of which takes place in a cab. Vincent and Max start off at odds, and though they do not become friends, they gain a deep understanding of each other as the night goes on. Vincent constantly tells Max his world view, that if we're all just specks on a dot in the universe, who cares if one person is murdered? Max ignores this and realizes that Vincent 'lacks the standard parts that others have'. Vincent also analyzes Max
he tells him that he talks and does not do, that he's spent his life planning but taking no risks. They trade their analyses in a later scene that's supremely directed and acted.
The film is mostly a cab ride/conversation between the two leads, which breaks occasionally to show us the cop on pursuit (Mark Ruffalo) and some of Vincent's hits, and Irma P. Hall as Max's mother in a scene that's funny and revealing. We also have Barry Shabaka Henley as a jazz club owner in a scene that's possibly the film's best, it's suspenseful, heartbreaking, and practically tears open Cruise, Foxx and Henley's characters.
And what characters this movie has! Vincent is one of the screen's best villains; he's cool and menacing, but also very complex. He seems like a sociopath murderer, but he's more than that, and you can see the pain inside when he's mistaken as one. He's humanized when he is around people he likes, like Max and Henley's nightclub owner. He has elements of other famous villains, like Henry Fonda's Frank character from 'Once Upon a Time in the West' and Orson Welles' Harry Lime from 'The Third Man'. And just as Harry Lime has his famous cuckoo clock speech, Vincent has his own speech, about a man dieing on a subway train and not being noticed for hours. Cruise executes his character perfectly; it's both his finest character and his finest performance.
But the film would die without both the Max character and Jamie Foxx. Max is just an average guy with his own dreams and goals and flaws, thrown into a desperate, dangerous situation forcing him to thwart a man he fears. He tries and tries for the whole night, tearful and shaky by the end, and he has an awesome scene where he turns the tables on Vincent and puts himself in control of their duo, causing Vincent to flip out.
The movie is directed perfectly, with silences and cinematography that capture the emptiness of the night. Michael Mann manages to make the streets and skyscrapers of L.A. beautiful, both his direction and the grainy cinematography is worthy of an Oscar.
This is one of the year's best films, and with hope it will be up for many Oscars, including Cruise and Foxx in the leading categories. Cruise and Foxx both mastered their roles, this is the best acting I've seen in years, it'll be a crime if the Academy doesn't honor them (especially after nominating 'Training Day', a movie with a very similar plot line that wasn't nearly as complex a character study).
Another magnificent aspect is the ending. I wont spoil it, I'll just say that Vincent finds out the answer to the question, 'Who notices?' The symbolism of this scene is delicious, and it is emotional, dramatic, exciting and perfectly acted. A must-see, this is one of the best movies in a long while, 8.5/10.
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