Max (Jamie Foxx), a Los Angeles cab driver full of thwarted dreams, picks up yet another customer, a slick-looking businessman called Vincent (Tom Cruise). Unbeknownst to Max, Vincent is a contract killer doing one last job for a narcotics cartel. Max becomes collateral, an innocent victim of circumstance, in Michael Mann’s latest noir thriller where lives collide in extreme circumstances that eventually become a cat-and-mouse survival game.
Michael Mann is 60 and has been writing, directing and producing films since 1972. He established himself as a master of the crime genre through films like Heat (1995) and a prodigious amount of television including Starsky And Hutch and Miami Vice as well as award-winning miniseries like Drug Wars: The Camarena Story. His most notable film of recent years is The Insider (1999) although he also directed Ali (2001).
Collateral unfolds between the hours of 6pm and 4am in the course of one night and is mostly set in the more grungy parts of east, downtown and Koreatown sectors of the megalopolis that is LA. In this film, the night-noir city of very much fallen angels is the central character around which the story spins. Mann adapted camera technology and shot most of the film on high definition digital video to give the bruised nightscape a three dimensional effect. Australian Dion Beebe lensed the film with the assistance of Paul Cameron, a music video specialist.
Dion Beebe isn’t the only Australian connection. Australian-born writer Stuart Beattie, who co-wrote Pirates Of The Caribbean, scripted Collateral. The film, originally set in New York and to star possibles such as Russell Crowe, Ed Norton or Colin Farrell, was pitched to the likes of Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg before ending up in the lap of Michael Mann who shifted the action to his home town and cast Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx (Ali) and Jada Pinkett-Smith (The Matrix).
Tom Cruise, well-cast against type, plays the silver fox-like, philosophising contract killer. Jamie Foxx, a classically trained musician and stand-up comedian, transcends his sitcom roles and puts in the strongest performance of his career as the cabbie who finds himself trapped with the passenger from hell. Even Jada Pinkett-Smith is good as a district attorney and the cast is rounded out with strong performances from Mark Ruffalo, as well as cameos from Irma P. Hall, Barry Shabaka Henley and Javier Bardem.
Whilst not as good as The Insider, Collateral is nevertheless a well-paced, stylish thriller with some inspired dialogue that will have you mostly on the edge of your seat. Sadly, the predictability of the last act weakens the film but Collateral is still likely to be the best big-screen popcorn Hollywood film of the year.