U.S. Release Date: August 6, 2004
Distributor: DreamWorks
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Stuart Beattie
Producer: Frank Darabont (executive), Michael Mann
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill, Javier Bardem, Jason Statham
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (violence and language)

It Ended Like Any Other Movie
by C.A. Wolski

With the summer heat wearing on, Hollywood has definitely cooled off. Case in point is Collateral, the newest offering in cool noir from veteran director Michael Mann (Heat).

The Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx vehicle is a smooth ride for its first two-thirds, offering a look at the seamy, surreal nighttime landscape that is Los Angeles, until the last third when the movie gets a flat.

Foxx is Max, an L.A. cab driver with dreams of opening a limo service of his own. It's a dream he's had for 12 years, and it's becoming just that—a fantasy he will never fulfill. Max picks up a fare, Vincent (Cruise), who makes him an offer he can't refuse: double his nightly take to shuttle him around the city and then back to the airport. Max accepts and soon learns that there is more to Vincent than he first suspected. The silver-haired businessman is, in fact, a contract killer who has come to L.A. to kill five people.

As in a Hitchcock thriller, Foxx is a typical everyman, good at his job with big, unfulfilled dreams, who finds himself in a situation which causes him to adapt to survive—adaptability is recurring theme throughout the movie. And Foxx plays Max as a regular guy trying to make the best of a very bad situation, first attempting to placate, then escape from, then stop the maniacal, single-minded Vincent.

In the meantime, unbeknownst to the unlikely partners, they are being shadowed by the L.A.P.D. and federal agents, who begin to notice that key witnesses in a big drug case are dropping like flies.

And it's all played with Mann's signature cool style, punctuated with Vincent's controlled violence as he makes short order of his marks. The night cinematography by Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron deserves special note. They make the dark streets both inviting and dangerous at the same time.

For all the movie has going for it from mood to its characters to its off-beat set-up, it goes terribly wrong in the last act, transmuting into a loud, bone-headed girl-being-chased-by-unstoppable-killer movie (Jada Pinkett Smith is the girl in a throwaway role). This is too bad, because Mann and screenwriter Stuart Beattie really had something here, a kind of weird, existential crime movie that could have been the adult thriller the summer desperately needs.

That said, Collateral is worth seeing, if for nothing else, Cruise's performance. Vincent is a seize-the-day kind of guy, a man who knows how to win in any situation. Max, by contrast, is paralyzed, afraid to make the first move, comfortable living a sort of Walter Mitty-esque existence. But Vincent's win at any cost mentality is buoyed by his fatal flaw—his moral atheism—making him more than the typical thriller villain. In a way, he's a thinking man's killer in the vein of Hannibal Lecter. You almost like the guy in spite of yourself.

Even with its flaws, Collateral is one of the best movies of the summer. An adult thriller that knows that being cool is better than being loud.

The Departed
Scorsese Rounds Up the Usual Nihilistic Suspects
The Kingdom
Action Blaster Suggests Osama Was Right
16 Blocks
Die Hard with Whine and Laughter
Miami Vice
Crockett and Tubbs Go Slumming