Review: Collateral (2004)

Tom Cruise managing to out cool Jamie Foxx, now that’s an achievement!

Written By: Stuart Beattie
Directed By: Michael Mann

A pair of coyote’s amble across a nearly abandoned Los Angeles street during the middle of the night. They are out of place, they do not belong in the jungle of sprawling buildings and concrete conveyances that make up this American city. Yet they are present, and they walk from one side of the street to the other undeterred. They are on a journey that we can’t understand, they are removed from humanity after all. But, where does that leave us? We have trapped ourselves in the jungle of concrete. We have built walls, we have isolated ourselves, and we have removed contact with one another from the equation as much as possible.

Stuck in this world are a cabbie and a hitman. They are out of place as well, they cross the streets undeterred but they never belong where they end up at. The cabbie should be at a different job, with people around him to buoy his spirits and bask in the light of his good tidings. The hitman should be near people who will listen, people who will acknowledge his existence and let him know that he does matter. Neither man is where they should be, instead they are trapped in a giant city full of people who don’t matter to one another.

On the surface Michael Mann’s film is a simple thriller. The ending manages to be both a nicely shot action set piece and a chance for Mr. Mann to succumb to what people believe Collateral is on a surface level. The ending of Collateral is the weakest element of the film, it is the moment when the film decides to be less than what it should be. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Collateral is thrilling for most of its run time while also asking more from the viewer than an average thriller would.

As Jamie Foxx escorts Tom Cruise from job to job they form a relationship. It is complicated, and it is predicated on the distance that has overtaken humanity. These two men could not hope to know one another under any other circumstances than the far fetched one they find themselves in on one languid Los Angeles night. There are reasons why they are alone, just as there are reasons why much of humanity feels lonely.

A telling scene takes place in a nightclub. It is the one scene where the two main characters are surrounded by a cacophony of other people. As should be expected when their isolated bubbles are destroyed the nightclub becomes a den of destruction. Mr. Cruise’s hitman is so isolated that his arrival amid a large group of people can only mean a bevy of death and destruction. Meanwhile Mr. Foxx’s cabbie is so passively isolated that he can only stand by and watch the destruction being wrought.

Michael Mann’s version of Los Angeles is slick throughout Collateral. It is a gleaming city that is hiding darkness beneath its shine. The people of the city are lost, but so are people everywhere and thus Los Angeles isn’t all that special. It’s too bad that Mr. Mann lets the finale get away from him (minus the chilling final utterances of Mr. Cruise) because Collateral was shaping up to be among his best films. But, the action laden finale, pleasing though it may have been from an action aesthetic point of view, does happen and it does negate much of what has come before. Mr. Mann’s poem to city life ends up being a film that aimed high and came up a little short. Collateral is much like humanity in that respect.





2 responses to “Review: Collateral (2004)

  1. Good review. I liked this film, but didn’t love it. I found the amazing coincidences a little too much for me to suspend my disbelief for. Sure, they aren’t that big compared to generic action movies, but this film was highly praised by critics, so I was expecting better.

  2. The coincidences were a bit too much, but I would had been able to forgive them more if not for the generic penultimate action mash-up.

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