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Thread: Collateral

  1. #1
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    Collateral

    "Manhunter" meets "Lost In Translation" - Michael Mann's followup to his 1986 "Manhunter" captures the style of "Lost In Translation" to make a compelling, deeply entertaining, dramatic thriller - one the best movies of the year and Oscar nominations to Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

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    I don't know about those Oscar nominations, but this is a damn fine entertaining film. So entertaining, in fact, that one can overlook the rather absurd premise (why hire a cab for such a job?) and the several glaring holes in the plot.

    Mann's got to be the coolest (or should I say the coldest?) American filmmaker working today. The look of this film is mesmerizing, as was "Heat". The undercurrent of nihilism and loneliness in this film is intoxicating. An added bonus is the 2-hour cab tour of various Los Angeles neighborhoods. To me, it feels like a Hopper painting come alive, with elements of Sayles and gangster flicks thrown in.

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    I think it's safe to say that Mann knows L.A as well as Scorcese and Lee know N.Y.

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    I agree, the film is similar to Spike Lee's "25th Hour" in that the city itself is so prominently featured that it almost becomes like another character in the film.

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    Box Office

    COLLATERAL only opened with 24.4 million, decent for a 'R' rated film but it's second lowest this summer. I do hope that strong reviews and a good word of mouth work for the film in the long term. It's still only a 60 million dollar film so that's not too bad.

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    Mann's Masterpiece

    I'd like to offer this up as my review of the film:

    Collateral by Michael Mann, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx

    “Collateral” director Michael Mann, who has only begun to distinguish himself in the past decade as a feature film director with movies like, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Heat”, “The Insider”, and “Ali”, emerges on a completely different level and genre than he’s previously shown. This film is highly stylized looking more like film noir than 21st Century thriller. Mann has hearkened back to the 1940’s where the narrative told the story, only this time minus the voice over. The narrative is a character instead of a faceless voice. The character is an ordinary cabdriver who becomes witness to some extraordinary events because of the main characters driving force that pulls him and us in the action. The cabdriver then becomes the eyes of the audience being forced to witness one violent event after another. At first, like the cabbie, we are shocked by the viciousness and cruelty demonstrated by the assassin. His nature is cold and callous. As the violence escalates, the cab driver slowly looses his innocence gradually eroding his morals and like him, we find ourselves becoming equally affected. While some of the roles are two dimensional, like the FBI agent, there are enough twists and turns to the plot to make the story original and refreshing.


    The camera remains close to the cab driver, drawing us into his persona. Mann is not afraid to hold the camera close to the face, juxtaposing his focused face against the faceless passenger in the background. This proximity forces the actor to carry the scene. This can be dangerous for a director that cannot pull the right kind of performance from an actor. Surprisingly, Foxx, known for his comedic abilities, is able to sustain and hold his character throughout most of the film in a way that is as spellbinding as his evil counterpart in the back seat. As Foxx drives the cab playing the “everyman” role, we see how the progress through the night begins to change his views of violence and the violent nature of humanity, until he himself must become violent in order to survive.

    The character playing against type is Cruise. As he did in “Vanilla Sky”, Tom Cruise uses his exterior calm to mask an ugliness that constantly brews underneath, like a pot always on the verge of boiling over. Unlike his role in “Last Samurai”, Cruise is not a “pretty boy” inside a costume, but rather a complex character whose explosive nature can be unexpected. Foxx and the audience become witness to another world that exists right under the nose of the ordinary person, a world where violence is the norm. At first we are as shocked as Foxx is and repulsed at how cold Cruise’s character reacts when killing. Later, that helps us in emotionally detaching from Cruise, giving him a cruel and malicious villain’s status.
    Strangely at the beginning of the film, we almost want Cruise to succeed with his mission. But by the end, Mann clearly has defined his characters, not in black and white terms, but as what they are: one a contract killer, the other, just a ‘joe’ trying to do his daily job, caught up in the throes of angst. The suspenseful “chase” part at the end seems almost anti-climatic, yet it is the inevitable show down between the conflicting points of view. “One man comes to town and another man perishes,” end of story? Or the whole story?

    Some people are comparing this film to “Pulp Fiction” in that both movies are similar in style to film noir. I disagree. This is the movie “Pulp Fiction” should have been and wasn’t. This film has flow, where “Pulp Fiction” can’t decide which direction it wants to take, as it jumps from location to location, storyline to storyline. In “Collateral” the story has a nice flow that takes us from the interior of the garage to the end of the line, literally. In “Collateral” as opposed to “Pulp Fiction”, the “hit man” has a definite persona that is complex and intriguing. In “Pulp Fiction”, the hit men are confusing, and often comical, working against type. The audience is often left guessing what they are all about. Travolta can’t act his way out of a paper bag in that movie. Cruise on the other hand is riveting. His presence on the screen demands he be watched at all times. We can’t take our eyes off him because he is relentless in his pursuit of death. With guns blazing, the final shootout, like those of the old west, really ends the film with a whimper, instead of a bang… fade out.
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    Fine review, but i didn't know that COLLATERAL is being compared to PULP FICTION, personally i don't see any connection at all other than their common setting. You mentioned that the later "jumps from location to location, storyline to storyline," to me that's just the brilliance of Tarantino's screenplay. The film is not presented as a 'realistic' film but these character are given life as they existed in Tarantino's head, spoke his language, and this is where we need to listen, carefully, to find what they are all about.

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    I like this description Denby wrote in The New Yorker about Mann and his movies:

    <Shot by shot, scene by scene, Mann, whose recent work includes “Heat” and “The Insider,” may be the best director in Hollywood. I don’t mean that he’s the greatest artist. He lacks such qualities as the tormented humanism of Scorsese, the generous showmanship and warmth of Spielberg, the moral curiosity of the Clint Eastwood who directed “Unforgiven” and “Mystic River.” But Mann has become a master builder of sequences, the opposite of the contemporary action directors who produce a brutally meaningless whirl of movement.>

    The characterizations in this film are not its strongest point. I didn't leave the theater seriously contemplating the psyche of Tom Cruise's character. But, "Collateral", as directed by any other director, probably wouldn't be nearly as exhilerating or as interesting as it's turned out to be under Mann's direction.

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    Tom was Cruising

    At the beginning, throughout the movie, and even afterwards, Tom's performance and his character as a hit man raised the bar on such types of acting. The psyche of hit men are rarely and as thoughtfully portrayed. Usually, we only get stereotyped glimpses of such psyches. The sympathy of his character turns when we begin to wonder about his psyche. His "Lost in Translation" philosophizing (what was only observed without dialogue in that movie) is brought into a fascinating verbal description about life...both truth and lies by Tom Cruise.

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    You may be right, Tabuno. I'll have to go and revisit my opinion about the psyche of Vincent. The problem for me is that murder and killing are so omnipresent in the movies that they become a formula or a cliche. The after-affects of murder and the pyschological conditions of those who commit murder are usually just glossed over. For that reason, I quit trying to look deeper, quit asking why, and just enjoy it as entertainment. Maybe this movie is asking us to look deeper here, maybe there is some attempt to explain the psyche of Vincent. After all, he did have a pretty tramatic childhood, so he says.

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    Content over Style

    A good contrasting villian performance would be Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs - while his character of evil won the hearts of millions of audience members, Sir Hopkins performance was more charming, elegant, and wry witty rather than character driven - the inner demons that Vicent portrayed were left blank and only the superficial image of the psycho-path is seen. What makes Mr. Cruise's performance so compelling is the cracks in his so-called armor that allows Jamie Foxx and the audience to begin to see the true person underneath, something that is not often seen in Hollywood movies. Compare Brad Pitt's performance in "Meet Joe Black" (1998) who offered the audience one of the most brilliant performances where Mr. Pitt had to portray Death, a person with no soul...we only see the superficial emptiness because there is nothing inside. Pitt's acting was one of the most over-looked performances of the last decade.

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    I want to say more about this excellent movie but I haven't been able to get to it yet. Interesting comments here. Good description of Cruise's performance by cinemabon, better than I could have done. I would say many consider Collateral to have strong noirish overtones and this explains its initial appeal to me, but though some critic said that with a few differences in detail it could have been done in the Forties or Fifties, and it certainly is more unironic than Pulp Fiction, it's not pure noir but relates to the hostage film where there's a strict time limit. Its elegant and stylized approach and direct chronology are quite different from Pulp Fiction but there is the link of the caper that goes terribly wrong. As has been noted it's nice that the LA-based Manohla Dargis got to write her first piece for the NYTimes about it and she outdid herself. I do not share an enthusiasm for Denby's writing and even his praise of Collateral is irritating. Mann's new movie is very, very well done. Not exactly a new direction for him so much as a return to an earlier focus. Obviously there are fine performances but what stands out for me is the visual sense, the extreme beauty of the shots, the color, the framing, the texture, from first to last. The most gorgeous use of digital video ever. And a relief after Bourne Supremacy to watch handheld camera work and not need Dramamine.

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    Here, here!
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  14. #14
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    I've been a fan of Mann's work and there things about Collateral I liked (Foxx, the camerawork), but I think Collateral would've been better without Cruise in the lead and if it hadn't degenerated into a "I gotta save the little lady" plot.

    The main problem I have with Cruise is that he's not a deep enough actor to pull this off. (It's a performance that should chill us to the bone.) There's been posts on this site comparing this performance to Hopkins' Hannibal Lector and getting deep into the psychological of a hit man. I didn't see that. (For those who disagree, I'd love to hear what "insights" were gained from the character/performance.)

    I think there may have been opportunities for Cruise, but I'll be damn if I knew what he was playing. During that scene when the wolves cross the road, you know what Foxx is thinking (something along the lines of "the world is dangerous and you never know where the danger will come from"), but Cruise just stares blankly into the camera.

    As for whether "getting inside the mind of a professional killer" has been done before, it's been done plenty of times - and more interestingly. (And it's not that far from the plot of the hired gunslinger in many westerns.) Look no further than Woo's The Killer or Melville's Le Samourai.

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    No, don't agree at all: this is vintage Mann, and Cruise is fine.

    I'm really sorry I didn't get to see this movie a second time while it was in the theaters here; it's such a gorgeous thing on a big screen. I saw nothing wrong with Cruise. I've always been a fan of his, but not of everything he's done. This is certainly one of the best. The idea that a hired killer has some kind of complex character that Cruise was incapable of conveying is hard for me to grasp. It's true that Le Samurai--a very, very different, and wonderful, kind of thing--presents the emotionless blankness of the professional killer wonderfully, but is Delon a great actor? He's just a great blank slate, and he moves suprpemely well in that film: there are moments of pure mime and his wordless grace and sureness are wonderful to watch as he slides through his motions. Cruise's character in Collateral is something quite different, though equally blank: he's a motormouth, jibing and challenging the naive dreamy Foxx, keeping up the level of menace so that he's safe--till his guard is down, he fucks up, and he's dead. But despite all the talk, Collateral is primarily a visual movie, all about the images, the camerawork, the light, the color. It doesn't really rely on the actors and it's not "character-driven" except in a very schematic sense. It's more an atmosphere and process-oriented neo-noir, and Cruise has to project a affectless blind energy and menace, which he does very well.

    There's a lot of prejudice against Cruise; he has to deal with that every time he goes out. The notion that Anthony Hopkins is a great actor or that his Hannibal Lector shtick is great acting is another thing I find hard to countenance.

    Mann did a similar thing with James Caan in Thief--not exactly a great actor, but a reliable one, a professional, Mann trusted him and made a great movie out of him (in that case, a more character-dirven one, because it goes into much more deph about the character's life)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-28-2004 at 03:10 PM.

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