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Culture Reviews
Collateral / By M.Mann /
Tchaikovsky Cultural Center 
By Ryan Macalino
The word is ‘slick’. Director Michael Mann gives us a taut script, beautiful cinematography, and excellent performances from his main actors, both acting against type. Michael Mann’s execution of this film is even slicker than the killer-for-hire Vincent’s execution of his victims.

Lacking a title or opening credit sequence, the movie begins with various images of living in the city of Los Angeles. This is where the film immediately asserts itself as a different type of action movie, very far removed from its Hollywood cousins. Most of the movie is shot in digital video, and the early scenes are perceived to be small and mundane but made very surreal. It is in this world of the beautifully ordinary that we first meet Max, played by Jamie Foxx.

The story takes its time, but never drags. In these first few scenes we really get to know Max, and understand that he’s a true good guy, albeit somewhat stuck in a rut. Having worked as a cab driver for 12 years, he’s learned a neat escapism strategy: when things get too stressful, he looks at a picture of an island in his visor and ‘takes a vacation’. The movie then progresses into one about turning points. Max meets the acquaintance of a seemingly unimportant character in Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), and instantly clicks with her. Max’s life could have taken a different direction at this point.

But another turning point for Max arrives, in the person of Vincent, played by none other than Tom Cruise. It is at the point when Max lets Vincent in his cab that he’s made the unwilling participant of Vincent’s contract-killing spree. As deliberate as the movie’s pace was in the beginning, it quickly builds up its tension with each person Vincent assassinates. Unfortunately for the timid Max, he’s already given his island postcard to Annie, so the escapism strategy just wasn’t an option anymore. He will have to face Vincent sooner or later.

The performances in the film were superb, particularly by Cruise and Foxx, both playing against type. Foxx was great as Max, a breakthrough performance that showed signs of emergence in “Ali”. Giving such a sensitive and winning portrayal, it was hard to believe that only 10 years ago, this was the same guy playing Ugly Girl in “In Living Color”. Even more captivating for me was Cruise playing the stoic Vincent. This marks the first time that Cruise plays the antagonist, and he does it very well; he still carries the cool demeanor of the character while exhibiting his usual charisma. I was rooting for the bad guy the whole entire movie.

The interplay of the actors was great too; they had a chemistry that translated very well on-screen. This was the make-or-break factor, as the characters’ chance meeting was supposed to be a turning point for the both of them. Vincent was leading the life of a lonely hit man, a professional that hides his deep psychological scars by doing his job with obsessive proficiency. He lives in the moment; not yet having come to terms with his past, he is willing to die in the next second. On the other hand, Max is one who has never taken one drastic measure, preferring to exist in his routine and dream about better days. It’s fairly easy to see that in the movie universe, such characters were destined to meet.

In the latter half of the movie, there is a very beautiful scene where Max stops the cab abruptly to let a lone grey wolf pass. Max and the wolf stare at each other, while Vincent is equally paralyzed. Mann’s skillful direction establishes the point that it is this connection that keeps their destinies forcibly intertwined – Max has responsibility over Vincent’s survival just as Vincent does with Max – the turning point for the movie itself.

Mann treats the movie very meditatively, miles above his work on “Heat”. For example, the American city has never been filmed with such romanticism and elegance; Mann and his cinematographers make you think that Los Angeles has its own emotions. And also just like in “Heat”, Mann handles this more as a drama. While he still has the familiar action-thriller elements are in place, he presents a very beautiful and very thought-provoking film that forces you to imagine yourself in each of the characters’ shoes. Both of the main characters undergo a sort of catharsis that we are made witnesses to. In short, Mann makes us care about them, no matter what life they’ve lead, no matter what fate will deal to them at movie’s end. Very slick indeed…

01.10.04
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