Michael Mann is a commercial director, but with the modest success of Heat and then its growth into a cult film, and the Oscar run of The Insider and Ali, Mann’s reputation as a master turned him into something other than a pop artist. Maybe it’s just the way of the world, as Mann fascination with gangsters and cops used to be a much more commercial cinematic pursuit than it is these days, which favors comic books and sci-fi fantasy for its blockbusters. When Mann makes what counts as a summer movie they have got a strange aura of respectability, which may work against him. 2004’s Collateral is easily his most commercial effort, and one of his most satisfying. Tom Cruise stars as a hit man tasked with killing five people over the course of one night, and Jamie Foxx plays the cab driver who accidentally comes to see he’s assisting a killer. My review of the Blu-ray of Collateral after the jump.
It starts with a mini-movie. Max (Foxx) drives a cab and knows his machine. He picks up Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) at the airport, and makes a bet to see if he can get her to her office faster. And like he said, Max knows what he’s doing. Then he gets Vince (Cruise) as a passenger, and is offered $600 to drive him around all night. What Max doesn’t know is that he’s chauffeuring a hired killer. Things start smooth, and the two have a good back and forth, but the first guy Vince kills falls on Max’s car, which leads to this now classic exchange: “You killed him.” “No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” Max is then made hostage, but he shows more and more resistance, while Vince tries to philosophize the violence away. Things start to heat up when Max takes Vince to visit Max’s mother, and Max then decides to toss Vince’s briefcase, which sends Max into the den of Felix (Javier Bardem), where Max must bluff his way to get the final two names and stats, but when Max realizes that the final target is Annie, he turns the tables… somewhat.
Up until the moment where Max decides to take “control” of his life and crashes his car, Collateral is one of the boldest and strongest works of Mann’s career. The relationship between Max and Vince, the tension and grudging respect is palpable, and there’s also a sense (especially in the Jazz room and Felix’s den sequence) that you have no idea what’s going to happen next. There are also moments of pure poetry, and though this was the first film where Mann shot the majority of the film digitally, with the low light level and close focal points, this feels fresh and new.
On repeat viewings (and this film holds up), the transition into the third act and all of its actions become way less of a letdown. In its way the whole film has been following a formula, and the tensions and the situation are bound to reach some sort of head – similar to the conclusion of Heat, in which Robert De Niro and Al Pacino must square off. But here it bothers me a little less, it’s just the transition point (Max in the cab freaking out) stops the audience and slaps them in the face with what’s exactly going on. Until that point the film is so electric that when it transitions so clumsily, some of the poetry is lost. But Collateral remains a hypnotic experience, and a thoroughly entertaining at that.
Paramount’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and it looks amazing. Mann says about 85% of the film was shot digitally and the transfer here looks amazing. The soundtrack is 5.1 DTS-HD, and it’s also excellent. Collateral has one of my favorite music cues of all time, when Max is driving Annie and Groove Armada’s “Hands of Time” kicks in, it really sets the tone. The film comes with a commentary by Mann that is one of the best tracks of its kind. There’s a making of called “City of Night” (41 min.) which goes behind the scenes and gets great footage and comments from the cast and makers, and then “Special Delivery” (1 min.) which shows Tom Cruise delivering a Fed-Ex package. There’s a deleted scene (2 min.) with commentary by Mann which shows Max and Vince hitting the airport to lose any tails. “Shooting on Location: Annie’s Office” (3 min.) that talks to shooting in Downtown LA. There’s footage of Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx rehearsing (4 min.), and then a brief bit on the Visual FX’s used for the MTA train sequence (2 min.) The film also comes with the film’s theatrical and teaser trailer.