Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Collateral

The thing I like most about Michael Mann's films (like The Insider) is their sheer effortlessness, as though putting together a motion picture is just something you do on the weekends with your buddies. At his best, he makes it look so very easy, and Collateral is no exception. His use of color is amazing: the city of Los Angeles, often depicted as a hellish nightmare, becomes smoky and beautiful in the many helicopter shots we see, buildings lit from beneath by streetlights. Just as beautiful is the execution of the plot: Max (a stunning Jamie Foxx), a cab driver, has the misfortune to pick up Vincent (Tom Cruise), a hitman who kidnaps him into shuttling him from hit to hit. Stuart Beattie's airtight script wisely focuses on the characters rather than the plot, and Mann keeps his camera right in the actors' faces to pick up every grimace and drop of sweat. And the characters are fascinating, far more interesting than the good-guy/bad-guy archetypes they might inhabit in similar films. Vincent is charming and cool in his way, a quick wit and a wry smile providing camouflauge for the sociopath who lurks beneath. And while Max is definitely a likeable guy -- an extended scene at the beginning with Jada Pinkett Smith, brilliantly written, puts the audience firmly in his corner -- he's not perfect, and Foxx displays his flaws and weaknessess wonderfully. Too bad, then, that the movie slips in its final act, pumping up the adrenaline and shifting the focus to the action. But even intricate shaky-cam chase scenes look easy to do with Mann in charge.

Rating: ****1/2

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