> Volume 6 > Number 30


Michael Mann

Jamie Foxx
Tom Cruise
Jada Pinkett Smith
Mark Ruffalo
Peter Berg
Bruce McGill

Release: 6 Aug. 04



In the twelfth year in his ďtemporaryĒ job as a Los Angeles cabbie, Max (Foxx) begins his graveyard shift carting a beautiful young lawyer (Smith) to her office. Their conversation, segueing from the normal directional orders of a cab rider to the compelling banter of two people likely destined for each other, feels absurd for a Michael Mann film -- the images are mighty pretty, but the substance has lost the ultra cool flash of his best work, from Miami Vice to The Insider. Collateral, we soon learn, is about taking risks, even if the possibility of a truer meaning to a Mann film beyond vague pomp and circumstance is dashed after Max drops his customer at her destination.

Collateral is, without a doubt, that cold, indifferent Mann film that weíve come to expect, which isnít to say that itís bad. Even when his films almost become kitschy in their adherence to technical showboating, I find the industrial service from Mann and his cohorts truly mesmerizing. Heís the best filmmaker to glaze over substance in return for the pure pleasures of 24-exquisite-frames-per-second of cinematic genius.

This is certainly one of his best examples of the simplicity he can impart in the complexities of his shots. Modern Los Angeles has never looked better (I anxiously await Thom Andersenís reaction), but the characters and their plight take the weight of objets díart: trinkets in a larger collection, unable to stand alone. Each frame could be put on a wall at the Guggenheim, and the art intelligentsia would be gaga over the density of images, the balance and contrast between figure and setting. Their imagined themes, though, would probably be more interesting than whatís actually being projected in movie houses playing Collateral.

But even half-assed Mann storytelling is brilliantly compelling moviegoing. The artistry of the filmís first two-thirds, beyond the images, is clearly represented in his complex editing and sound schemes. The series of situations Max falls into after picking up a hit man (Cruise, in a showily restrained performance, his pretty-boy smile getting more attention by not appearing than he gets in his usual toothy performances), have a pace that keeps the audience from ever stopping to consider the inanity of it all.

At least, thatís the case until the filmís final section, a haphazardly arranged collection of action sequences that change character arcs and create only flashes of tension (where the rest of Mannís slight-of-hand keeps the audience enthralled). Itís in these moments that Mann suddenly turns into Jan de Bont, the only filmmaker more obvious than himself. No matter how blatant he may become, itís impossible to truly fault him for trying this: after convincing people like me of his talents by giving us little more than his methodological abilities, whoís to say he cannot hint at what a bad Michael Mann film would look like without still pushing us to write gushing reviews about how heís Godís gift to cinematography?

©2004, David Perry,, 23 July 2004