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Collateral (15)

Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (2-DISC VERSION): City of Night - The Making of Collateral; Deleted scene with Michael Mann commentary; Shooting on location in Annie's office featurette; Visual effects: MTA train featurette; Special Delivery featurette; Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx rehearsal featurette; Easter eggs.

TOM Cruise has tapped into the darker side of life before, most notably in films such as Magnolia and Interview with the Vampire, yet very rarely has he delivered such a compelling journey into the heart of darkness as he does in Collateral.

As hitman, Vincent, the actor cuts a cold, but charismatic figure, whose plan to dispose of five trial witnesses over the course of one night, while being ferried around by an unsuspecting cab driver (Jamie Foxx’s Max), is jeopardised when one of the first killings becomes a little too messy.

Hence, Vincent ‘recruits’ the unlikely Max as an ally-turned-accomplice, triggering an unlikely relationship between the two, as each attempts to outwit the other to achieve an end goal: namely, survival.

What makes the journey so alluring is the fact that the road-trip in question is being orchestrated by none other than Michael Mann, a director who paired Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to such memorable effect in Heat, and who is rightly considered to be one of the leading film-makers of his generation.

Like Heat, which also had a lead character by the name of Vincent, Collateral functions as an intense, character-driven thriller with stand-out set pieces, only this time the confrontation is played out in a much more intimate setting.

Max’s cab provides the forum for debate, and a refuge from the killing fields of the neon-lit LA, and it is where we find out most about the two men in question.

Vincent, it would seem, is a lone wolf who considers his job to be nothing more than ‘taking out the garbage’. Dressed in a slick grey suit, and with greying hair, he is probably an Army veteran, whose inability to take orders has prompted him to use his skills for a different, more lucrative purpose, yet whose fragile mental state is about to prove his Achilles heel.

Max, in contrast, is a blue-collar type with a plan of his own, despite having driven a cab for the better part of his life. He may be viewed as a failure by his mother, but he intends to prove the sceptics wrong.

Both Cruise and Foxx build their characters slowly, relying on Mann’s flair for supplying small, yet crucial details, at opportune moments.

The point at which Cruise becomes vulnerable, for instance, is played out during a wonderfully played conversation with a jazz trumpeter (Barry Shabaka Henley), whom Vincent respects, but has ultimately come to target, while Foxx’s transition from victim-in-waiting to psychological adversary is completed in a nightclub, while being forced to ‘do business’ with a drug lord (an equally magnetic turn from Javier Bardem).

Both Cruise and Foxx provide riveting star turns, each playing against type to explore different sorts of characters from those we have come accustomed to. Cruise, especially, is more cold-blooded and ruthless than he has ever been, yet never at the expense of his humanity, while Foxx (who made a name for himself as a stand-up comedian) is far more restrained than usual, clinging to his survival instincts as a cab driver as he attempts to outwit his latest fare.

Likewise, the support cast does much to enrich the overall satisfaction, with everyone from Mark Ruffalo and Peter Berg to Jada Pinkett Smith contributing to the set-up.

The action, too, is typically intense, with a nightclub gun battle taking its place alongside the bank robbery sequence, in Heat, as evidence of Mann’s ability to orchestrate mayhem on the grandest scale.

Indeed, the only slight hitch comes in the form of the ending which, while subtle and clever in its own way, might just provide the only tingle of disappointment in an otherwise electrifying experience.

This is a ride you won’t want to miss.

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