a Film by Michael Mann

There is a moment in Collateral late into the film, where Tom Cruise as the silver-haired assassin and Jamie Foxx as his unwitting cab driver escort are driving toward what will become number four in an after hours execution binge of murdered witnesses-for-the-prosecution. The scene shows the tattered taxi and its two opposing occupants being stopped by a street-crossing pair of coyotes. At this point, Director Michael Mann slows down his camera and soundtrack musical number and we watch, along with the characters in the film, these predatory canines leisurely gait their way across the boulevard. It is at this exact moment, contrary to any plotline in the film, that we see Michael Mann do what he does better than almost any other American-Hollywood Filmmaker working today. Michael Mann is a late night urban existentialist with the electric neon eyes of a hyper-active meth-junkie who has just recently embraced the teachings of the Dhammapadda. Mann, who made the stylistic crime drama Heat and the moody Sixty Minutes docu-drama The Insider has brought his visual slickness, a combination of eighties TV cop-pop eye candy Miami Vice and a Travis Bickle-induced homage toward the opening sequence of Scorsese's Taxi Driver to the adaptation of screenwriter Stuart Beattie's slim and (somewhat) shallow screenplay.

Collateral, shot mainly on high-definition digital video, gives off a certain hue that makes the LA night time appear to be almost glowing with a wet fluorescent look, making you feel as if it's four a.m. and you are half falling asleep sitting at the all-night laundromat, wishing your clothes would hurry up and dry so you can go home and collapse in a tired ball of sleep deprevation atop your unkempt bed. The star of this film is not Tom Cruise and it is not Jamie Foxx and it is not even the neoned Taoist Autuer Mann. It is the spookily-vacant streets of LA that are the stars of Collateral - streets that are given to us by the visual etheralness of Michael Mann's smooth-operater filmmaking technique. Even the close-ups of Foxx and Cruise are set in a deep focus negativity of the larger-than-life neon jungle that surrounds them. The city is always there and Mann has, at least temporarily, become its master - unleashing it in a cold callous smooth ugliness that only adds to its characters moral predicaments.

Mann does the quiet cerebral moments with the artistic flair of a street-lighted Picasso and thus Collateral entices us in with the ghostly urban mood of a philosopher's gaze. Cruise, with his steely determined eyes of indifference is perfectly cast (especially for a Michael Mann film), as the sleek silver-suited gun-for-hire Vincent, set on his assignment to kill five Mob-related witnesses in one night. Granted, through all the glitz and glitter of the shimmering skyscrapers of after hours LA, there is not one single moment of surprise in Collateral, yet in Mann's hands the films luscious looks make it work as only a Michael Mann film can. [08/06/04]