Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by:Stuart Beattie
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Bruce McGill
Released: October 14, 2004
Grade: A-

Filmmaking is a hard business in which to be continually creative but director Michael Mann has delivered once again with Collateral.  I became a fan of Mann’s back in 1995 when he directed the 3-hour epic Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.  It was a near-perfect illustration of how to make a good crime thriller – you start out slow and keep building, building and building to a big finish.  By not playing all your cards in the first act, you keep your audience interested and looking for more.

Collateral follows in a similar vein although what is distinctive about this Mann film is its cinematography.  The film has been shot completely at night across the streets of Los Angeles.  Usually it’s very difficult to create clear images on film at night but Mann has used a digital camera to do so and L.A. at night never looked so good!  According to Mann himself, nearly 80% was shot digitally and once you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise how amazing the quality is.

Also a strong point are the camera angles Mann and cinematographers Dion Beebe (Chicago) and Paul Cameron (Swordfish) have chosen.  Beebe hails from Queensland which makes it even better!  You’ll be amazed how many different shots you can get within a taxi-cab.  From the high helicopter flyovers, to the close-ups from the steering wheel, it looks simply great.

The story centres on a taxi driver named Max (Foxx) who’s been working the streets of Los Angeles for over 12 years.  As the film’s poster nicely phrases - “it began like any other night”.  That is until a man in a grey suit carrying a large black briefcase enters the cab.  Introducing himself as Vincent (Cruise), he offers Max $700 for his services for the entire night.

Max accepts but it is a decision he will soon regret.  At the very first stop, he waits for Vincent while he visits a “friend” at an apartment building.  After a few minutes, a body falls from a 4th story window and lands squarely on top of the cab.  After the initial shock subsides, Max realises the gravity of the situation.  Vincent has killed this man and it’s not going to be his only kill of the night.  With a gun pointed at the back of his head, an ordinary taxi driver has become the chauffer of a professional hit-man with a specific agenda…

The film wasn’t a box-office hit in America but for the first time since 1999’s Magnolia, I can say that I enjoyed the performance of Tom Cruise.  Cruise has played too many nice guys of late so it’s great to see him greying the hair and tackling the more challenging, bad-guy role.  His has a few top one-liners too.  On killing his first victim he tells Max that it wasn’t he who killed him but rather it was the bullets and the fall which did so.  Jamie Foxx too is strong with the best performance of his indifferent career.  Sometimes you just don’t realise how much talent some actors have until you give them a decent role.

The only problem with the Collateral lies in its conclusion.  The plot starts to lose its realism and the dialogue starts losing its plausibility.  A few too many coincidences take place and you sense they have been designed to prolong the suspense.  A shorter, more succinct ending would have been preferred.  I will not harp too strongly on this point though because Stuart Beattie’s script until this point is terrific.  Take a bow again Australia because Beattie also hails from this country and helped pen last year’s surprise smash, Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl.