“Collateral” follows Vincent Vega (Tom Cruise, sporting graying hair) as he travels throughout Los Angeles one night, fulfilling his contract. Presumably, because he is just visiting, he doesn’t rent a car. Maybe he can’t drive. Maybe he’s from the East Coast and doesn’t have a car. This part of his character is vague. For whatever reason, Vincent uses cabs to get around while in LA. At a downtown office building, he jumps into the cab of Max (Jamie Foxx), a man with a dream, who tries to make the best of his days. Max has just dropped off a woman that he is extremely interested in, Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) and still daydreaming. He quietly takes Vincent to his first stop, stating that it will take 7 minutes. It does take seven minutes and this impresses Vincent. He asks Max to take him to all of his stops for the rest of the evening; he’ll double his usual take. Max eyes the money and agrees. Waiting for his Fare, Max starts eating his dinner, daydreaming, until a body crashes into the top of his cab.
Much like “Heat”’s blue landscape and sun-drenched backdrops, “Collateral” goes the opposite direction with equally stunning results. Mann and his crew used a DV Camera for the film. Using a digital camera is a gutsy move and provides a unique look for the film, enhancing the atmosphere. The story actually begins in the late afternoon and every image is crystal clear, much like watching a HD TV. As the light wanes, the images become darker and grainier. When the characters move to a brightly lit area, their faces pop out in sharp relief, but the backgrounds are still grainy. This makes the characters appear as though they are walking among two-dimensional backdrops. When they enter a brightly lit building, everything becomes crystal clear again. Mann is using this as another way of indicating what the characters are feeling and experiencing during these scenes.
The story is about as simple as they come. Vega has received his contract and has a fancy tablet-like computer with pictures, addresses, schedules, etc. of each of the victims. He announces to Max that he has five stops, so the viewer has a timeline of sorts, very clearly on. Basically, a two-character set piece, the film is about Max and Vincent. How they interact, how they change each other, what they learn from each other and more. At one point, Vincent learns that Max has a mom in the hospital and he drags Max to the hospital for a visit. They become a sort of guardian angel to each other. As they make their way to the various stops, Max, the good guy, continues to look for a way to stop Vincent. They stop at a Jazz club, a Latino nightclub, a nightclub in Koreatown. Each of these stops introduces a new, interesting character into the mix, however briefly.
Less successful, and necessary, are the action scenes. Because the film is essentially a character piece about two people interacting over a single night, big action scenes don’t really fit. At the Koreatown club, in particular, the action seems excessive, over the top and unnecessary. Cruise’s acting in this scene rivals Pacino’s ham-fisted dialogue delivery in “Heat”. I’m not knocking Pacino in “Heat”, but he is ham-fisted. With the exception of the Koreatown club and the finale, the action scenes are smaller and lower key, which fits perfectly into the story. I am more willing to accept the action of the finale, but it also seems a bit obtrusive. Because it is the finale, and it is foreshadowed at the beginning of the film, it seems to fit more generically.
During the 2004 Academy Awards, there was a lot of talk about how Jamie Foxx “almost stole the film” from Tom Cruise. What this means is that people felt Foxx did a better job in this film than his more famous co-star. This is incredibly subjective, but each of them portrayed characters that were different for them. Foxx, who began his rise to fame on TV’s “In Living Color”, was more well-known for his comedic work. In “Collateral”, and later “Ray”, he shows remarkable skill at drama. In “Collateral”, his character is quiet, observant and a bit of a loser. He comments that the job driving a cab is just temporary; he’s working on things, trying to get a business started. When Vincent asks him how long he’s been driving a cab, Max answers 12 years. There’s nothing temporary about it. We then realize that he is a dreamer who has never, and will never realize his dreams. Max becomes all the more real because of this. Cruise has become one of the world’s biggest stars playing heroes. So it was a risk for him to take the role of Vincent, a cold- blooded killer. Like most of Cruise’s films, he brings an intensity to the role that fits the character. Cruise’s role is the more showy, and noticeable, but it was probably less of a stretch for him to pull off than Foxx’s performance. Because of this, Foxx is receiving the lion’s share of attention. Both performances are very good. Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Javier Barden and Barry Shabake Henley (a very recognizable character actor) pop up during Max and Vincent’s travels. Ruffalo has the most extended supporting role, and is the most successful with it.
“Collateral” was released in theaters during the summer of 2004, and it, and “The Bourne Supremacy” signaled that perhaps the studios have realized that there is a market out there for adult action films. “Collateral” is a very good film that will take you along for the ride.