I don't know what it is about watching movies on TV that I own on DVD, but often I'll just sit there and watch it, even though I could watch it sans commercials and less censored with the comfort of a store bought disc. Last night this happened. Long story short, we now have HD cable and it was on TV in HD last night and I got sucked in. You can even pause it and rewind it (I did at one point, because I missed a line I wanted to hear! it was awesome). But enough about TV, because I'm here to talk about Collateral.
Admittedly, I was a little disappointed the first time I saw this, but that's because, as mentioned previously, I am such a huge fan of Michael Mann's 1995 masterpiece, Heat. And Heat, well, it's really just not advisable to compare anything to that. Collateral is, for a lack for a better word, more "mainstream" than a film like Heat, despite the fact that Heat starred De Niro and Pacino. I mean, this thing stars Tom Cruise. And Jamie Foxx, who later the same year would win an Oscar for playing Ray Charles, and be nominated for this role! So we are dealing with the Tom Cruise crowd, which does not really call for an as nuanced a film as something like Heat. That being said, Michael Mann has by no means dumbed down his style for the Cruisites, but rather simplified the concept. But by no means take simplification as a byword for "lamed up." His characters are just as interesting, but the film is just smaller in scale, more easily digestible, and about an hour shorter than Heat.
Mann is a smart filmmaker and writer. His films are heavily researched and the characters are so fully written insofar as their personal histories (including details such as where and when someone may have served prison time, gone to school, been married, etc). And it shows. His characters are probably some of the most interesting I know. They are often either quite ordinary people, or extraordinary people who are somehow made ordinary. In Heat, we are shown the sacrifices and difficult decisions that detectives and master criminals must make, and in Collateral we see what makes a hitman tick and how far an ordinary cab driver can be pushed.
The plot, basically, is Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a hitman who needs to "close five real estate deals" in one night in LA so he gets cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx) to drive him around all night to each "real estate deal". Max quickly realizes what is actually going on after the first mark lands face-down on his windshield, and things go from there. Also costarring Mark Ruffalo in a curious side role as a detective that never really goes anywhere. Other familiar faces include, Jason Statham (blink and you'll miss him), Jada Pinkett Smith, and Javier Bardem. It's a pretty straight up story, but is very well put together. My only complaint is that the ending is not as powerful as I was hoping. Mann has a penchant for creating dramatic closing scenes and compared to Heat, and even Miami Vice, this one feels a little lackluster. That being said, maybe it was just Tom Cruise's fault.
What's probably most interesting though is the cinematography. It was widely discussed that Mann decided to film large parts of the film on HD digital, which enabled him to capture low-light level sequences, particularly important for a film set during the night in LA. Like Heat, Collateral is also a love letter of sorts to LA, to both its vast sprawling layout and its dazzlingly excessive electric landscape. And some of these sequences look fantastic. According to wikipedia, the sequence where Max and Vincent watch some coyotes cross the road was filmed entirely spontaneously, something which couldn't have been done on film without setting up lighting. I can't dislike a movie that has coyotes in it. Go rent it!
Short behind the scenes documentary, mostly based around the fight sequences. Warning, contains small spoiler!