directed by Michael Mann
(Paramount, 2004)

Michael Mann's your man when you want a director who specializes in intelligent intensity.

There was 1999's The Insider, in which Russell Crowe's whistleblower, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, is hung out to dry. There's Ali, with Wil Smith as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. And this year Mann gave us Collateral, just out on video, about a night that began like any other.

Though Mann's worked with some powerhouses like Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jude Law, Collateral matches him with Tom Cruise, and it's one of Collateral's matches made in heaven.

The second is pairing megawatt Cruise (because, really, who doesn't have to work to suspend belief when it's a face you've seen a million times onscreen?) with Jamie Foxx -- not a household name (yet) despite roles in Ali and the woefully underappreciated Booty Call.

But don't underestimate Foxx, or his role as taxi driver Max in Collateral. It's that subtle sense of Everyman that Foxx exudes so well that helps draw us into Collateral and helps us side with Max when his involuntary night with contract killer Vincent starts going horribly wrong.

Max has just dropped off a fare, a U.S. attorney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, when his cab is hired by Vincent. The simple deal soon turns complex: Vincent offers him money to hire the car for a night so he can complete all his business by morning.

But when Vincent makes his first stop and Max's idling car is hit by a body tumbling from the building, it turns out Vincent isn't in town to do some overnight bond trading. He's a contract killer with a simple task: five stops, five drug-trafficking witnesses to kill, and Max, whether he likes it or not, is along for the ride.

Under Mann's direction, and with a script by Stuart Beattie, Collateral turns into a dark buddy picture, with both Vincent and Max depending on each other for survival, with neither able to trust the other, and with an impending sense of doom -- there's little chance they'll both walk away from the experience.

Cruise is able to plow his considerable intensity (much as he did in Magnolia) into Vincent, and Foxx is amazing going toe-to-toe as the initially intimidated, then desperate, then determined Max. There's a tension between them that's almost suffocating, and the nighttime that surrounds them only intensifies the isolation.

Besides, Los Angeles has never looked better at night, thanks to some fantastic cinematography that even makes the blue-washed dawn look redemptive.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 12 March 2005

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