Friday, December 17, 2004


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMichael Mann's latest thriller, released on DVD this Tuesday, seems more of a recollection of his past successes, rather than anything new. Given the premise, and the director, one would expect an edgy, well-shot, and most importantly original work. Sadly, what starts as an electrifying, suspenseful film begins losing speed at the halfway point, and by the end feels like it is lurching to a finish in the most formulaic of manners.

The movie boasts three big stars, Tom Cruise as the icy hit-man Vincent, Jaime Foxx as Max the cabbie with big dreams but lacking the drive (no pun intended) to make them happen, and Mann himself, veteran writer and director of crime thrillers on both the big and small screen. All three have reputations as well as lofty expectations, and all three fall short of the performances they could have given in the film.

You can't blame Cruise and Fox for the lack of intensity in their acting, because despite their best efforts, the dialogue they're given is far too contrived and often wildly out of place. The juxtaposition between Vincent's threats of death in order to retain Max as his personal chauffeur for the night and his seemingly legitimate concern for the well-being of his driver just doesn't work. There's no middle ground between the two, and without it and any kind of motivation for the alternation between those modes, the screenplay can seem downright schizophrenic.

The disappointment at the lackluster dialogue is exacerbated by the extremely well-written conversation between Jada Pinket-Smith (as the high-powered prosecutor) and Foxx in the first twenty minutes of the movie. Lines flirtatiously dart back and forth between the two, and their potency rests in the unspoken fact that the driver and the passenger are from such different worlds that despite their dalliance, there can be no real future for the two characters.

Mann would have been smart to use Smith's character as a way to flesh out his protagonist -- giving him a reason to make it through the night -- but instead the writer/director falls prey to formulaic thriller doctrine that she must of course come back into the plot at the film's end. As the two story-lines overlap in a most expected way, Mann's movie takes its final step out of the realm of the interesting and into that of the mediocre and predictable.

Through all the excitement -- of which there truly is some-- the forced dialogue, and the predictable outcome, there is one moment where Michael Mann's genius flashes quickly on screen. Right before the film heads towards a disappointing end, Max has to stop the cab short in front of a family of coyotes crossing the street. Their eyes glow in the headlights as they pass, and Mann beautifully pulls out all music and ambient noise from the soundtrack, leaving Max, Vincent and the audience in absolute silence and with the realization that there is no barrier -- physical or otherwise -- between L.A.'s civilization and the wild beyond its borders. It is therefore quite telling that just as the moment happens, however, the music track comes back in and becomes a terribly grating and out-of-place alternative rock song that left me wanting to press the mute button on my set.

Collateral is the story of what could have been. Perhaps a more interesting version could be made if the viewer watches the first half, and then turns it off. Honestly, if the average audience member can think up a better ending to the film, couldn't the seasoned Mann?