Worth A Look: 40.21%
Pretty Bad: 14.29%
Total Crap: 4.23%
15 reviews, 99 user ratings
by David Hollands
Michael Mann is one of my favourite directors. The way in which the man moves his camera effortlessly throughout a film to allow the audience to absolutely revel in the images is astounding. What's also incredible is how Mann is able to perfectly integrate his visuals with the story to create a wonderful cinematic whole. Having said that, letís now turn our attention to Collateral, Michael Mann's newest film.After his horrifically over-scaled and boring attempt at a bio-pic, Ali, I was pleased that Mann was pulling back on the grandeur of his subject matter. However, I must unfortunately say that while Mann's visual sense and execution has never been stronger in Collateral, the screenplay by Stuart Beattie is easily the worst written in quite a long time.
"Michael Mann's great direction can't overcome the horrible script."
The plot kicks off as we are introduced to cab driver Max, as he prepares to make his rounds for the day. Max has big plans for his future, but has been stuck in his un-enjoyable job for roughly twelve years. At the same time, a grey-haired man known as Vincent meets up with a contact at the airport, and the two exchange a briefcase exchange. Vincent soon hails Max's cab, and tells Max that he will pay him six hundred dollars if he would drive him around to several locations throughout the evening to negotiate real-estate deals. Max agrees, but on the first stop, a body falls flat on Max's car. As it turns out, Vincent is a skilled assassin, and is using Max and the cab as his transport.
Mann's sense of executing a great action scene has never been stronger. There are many standout sequences throughout this film that showcase his brilliant sense of timing, as well as his grace. The main standout includes a fantastic shoot-out in a night club scored to a techno beat. We know exactly where each character is, and who is after who at any given moment. This knowledge ups the tension to major levels, and it just baffles me why so many other directors are oblivious to the fact that audiences need to know where things are so that the lack of confusion can keep the tension at nerve-shredding levels. Thankfully, Mann understands this, and he also understands how to shoot his action scenes in a way so the audience will be worried that the next bullet may hit them square on. Each bullet hit, each punch, is delivered with shocking intensity, so that the audience feels everything the characters are feeling.
Using two cinematographers, one to man the HD Digital Camera used on this movie, and the other to handle the regular film camera, Mann has created the most visually striking film of the year. The work done by Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron is astounding; this may be the first film shot on digital that actually suits the film. Even though the squeaky-clean image digital photography can produce often feels cold and detached, Mann uses it completely to his advantage. Simply put, this movie feels like the audience is constantly with the characters at all times, as if a passer-by with a video camera happened to just come upon the various situations in the movie.
This movie is filled with a few of the trademark Michael Mann-isms: blue lighting, contrast-boosted images, tight close-ups; when going in for a close-up, Mann relies on the extreme detail HD can produce in order to capture every little feature on every face. Other times, he uses the digital photography during scenes of near-complete darkness. In what is easily the most tension-filled sequence in the film, Vincent, after having cut the power on one of the floors of a corporate building, stalks one of his victims. Here, Mann uses digital, because he knows that it makes it easy to see peoples' outlines, even in near-darkness. This makes the tension go up to extreme levels, because we can see the characters, and yet we can also see that one will have a very hard time seeing the other. In other words, this is by far the best use of HD Digital photography yet.
Mann doesn't skimp out when it comes to using film. In fact, he uses film to capture some of the films most striking images. Three scenes in three separate night clubs look spectacular, thanks to the fact that it is obvious Mann used old-fashioned film to photograph them. As a result, every colour Mann photographs comes through with such a vibrant quality, that it almost pops one's eyes out. While digital may make the colours appear to be exploding, it has yet to hold the natural, warm look that film produces. As a result, many of the sequences that are the most lively and beautiful to look at are that way due to Mann's use of both digital and film. If the cinematography here isn't up for an Oscar, I'll scream bloody murder.
Jamie Foxx does a commendable job as Max. Foxx brings a natural quality to the role that helps the audience believe in his character. Foxx is also able to effortlessly launch himself into a scene, making us believe in his emotions given what's happening in a scene. He also plays fantastically off his supporting players, never commanding a scene so as to take attention off them. Tom Cruise, who plays Vincent, is okay. I definitely think it cool that Cruise has chosen to play a bad guy, but it's really only a halfway decent performance. While there are definitely a few moments in which Cruise can be utterly terrifying, it's during the quieter moments in which Cruise has to have subtlety that fall flat. There's really nothing going on internally in Cruise's performance; it's like we're simply staring at the ocean's surface for most of the running time.
The supporting all do great jobs with their limited roles, most of which are pretty cliche. Peter Berg shows up as a carefree cop, Bruce McGill goes through the typical "shoot first, ask questions later gun happy cop" shtick with a definite glee, and Mark Ruffalo gives a little weight to his role as the typical cop who knows the truth about the evening's events.
Unfortunately though, there is simply no tension at all for much of the film. I find this hard to believe, given that this is the Michael Mann who gave us the superb Manhunter, but it's sadly a fact. While Mann is fantastic with his visuals, for some reason he just can't pull tension from those visuals to get the audience's hearts pumping. The whole movie feels rather soulless, so the audience really can't pull any kind of fear from that. The premise of Max being forced to drive Vincent around should have been filled to the brim with nerve jangling intensity, but even when Mann gets in close with the camera, there's simply no tension. He even goofs when executing a sequence in which a body falls from an apartment complex onto a car. There's just no surprise to the sequence at all, no type of shock. This whole film has the feeling of "going through the motions", which is quite unfortunate.
The radical tone problems throughout also lower the suspense. Witness a few quite frankly strange moments in which Mann tries to pull comedy from a scene directly after Vincent has executed somebody. The shockingly forced comedy is so distracting, that it threatens to pull one right out of the movie. Why comedy was even attempted at all is beyond me, for whenever a sequence had even the slightest chance of being in any way filled with suspense, in comes one Hell of a dumb joke after another, the execution of those jokes the most painful thing to experience here. They also come at very awkward moments to. Now, I realise that making people laugh helps to relieve tension, which basically increases tension even more the next time it shows up. Here, however, is one of those cases when pure tension would have been a lot better, as the shoddy placement of the gags throughout this film only helps to distract and to bog down the suspense.
The biggest flaw here, though, is the sheer predictability of Stuart Beattie's screenplay. Everything plays out as we know it will, right up to the conclusion. I'm really not spoiling anything here when I say that the hero will win in the end; admit it, you saw that one coming nearly ten miles away, and all you had to do was watch the previews. As soon as you find out that Vincent is going to murder five people, you just know that he'll kill them successfully until it comes time to due in the final one; at that point, the hero will come in to save the day just in time, and vanquish the villain.
I seriously can't believe that the filmmakers have tried to make some kind of deep point in the movie. Vincent repeats a story he previously told while talking to Max in his cab at the film's conclusion: one concerning a man who died on the subway, and one no one noticed for many hours. While the filmmakers seem to have concluded that this would come off as some mind-blowing statement given the film's conclusion, I believe it was inserted to attempt to hide the fact that the conclusion is as poor as it is. However, what exposes the "deep" portion of this story is the fact that it really doesn't seem to have a point, and it more than comes out of nowhere. And if it was foreshadowing, the filmmakers really need to go back to film school to learn how to properly use that technique.
The script is lazy when it comes to contrivance and convenience. Get this: one of Max's passengers, as well as the only one he really interacts with, will undoubtedly turn into one of Vincent's victims. Given that she's pretty, and obviously a potential love interest, we just know that Max will somehow make it alive until the point when he can save her. Get this as well: at one point, two police officers pull Max and Vincent over and ask to search the cab; this is because they've noticed that Max has a cracked bloody windshield. In the trunk is the body of one of Max's victims. As soon as the cops are about to check the trunk, they receive a call from dispatch to head to another area. They then order Max to head to the police station...and they leave! They leave behind a car with a cracked, bloody windshield, an unexplored trunk, and a driver who appears to be nervous as Hell! Unbelievable!
Also consider the absolute stupidity of the main assassin here. Vincent may just be the dumbest killer to ever disgrace the screen. For one thing, his evening plan is ridiculous. Why, if he's planning on murdering people, would Vincent take a cab? Not only does he have the driver to worry about, but also leaving said cab in a concealed area. Seriously, if he maybe had a wig, he could take another form of transportation easily, and that would get rid of a whole series of concerns. Plus, this guy has chalk-white hair that stands out horrifically in any crowd. Never once does Vincent try to cover the cab's license plate, allowing the cops to home in on the cab later in the movie. He never thinks to switch guns, meaning that the police are able to figure out a pattern with the bullets instantly between the bodies they've found. One of the major executions takes place in a jazz restaurant. Not only does Vincent simply waltz right in, taking Foxx along for no particular reason, but he lets everyone in there get a real good look at him before executing his target...who happens to be a very famous face in this restaurant. Right. And by the way, it's discovered that all the targets are potential witnesses of an important court case, so why the Hell aren't the police putting them into any kind of protective custody? Sure, they rush to one after the pattern is discovered and three others are dead, but isn't that a little late? Then comes the fact that Vincent is lugging around this huge computer, with the names and addresses of all his targets. Really, if he was at all captured, not only would they have the evidence to incriminate him, but also the one who hired him. Was it really so hard to simply memorize the information?
This rampant stupidity fills so much of Collateral. One simply can't enjoy the film because of it. Every little flaw sticks out like extremely large sore thumbs, and the enjoyment and possible suspense of the picture is completely decreased, because we know that something will always happen to get the hero out of any tight spot. That's why all the above flaws are so apparent, as well as a few moments in which characters seem to defy the capacity of human speed. Jamie Foxx, at one point, seems to run halfway across Los Angeles and runs up some thirty flights of stairs in under three minutes. Whoa. Vincent also does pretty much the same, and then hesitates before shooting the final target, even though he seems to be the most determined guy around. In another scene, two thugs appear to rob Foxx while he's tied up in a poor attempt to juice up the suspense...but we know they'll both bite it anyway, so how can we possibly feel any kind of tension? Really, this just has to be the most horrifically constructed script in a Heck of a long time. And one just knows somethingís wrong when the final five minutes of the film resemble Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan.
This movie has the best sound mix of the year. Gunshots are intense, and have a startling impact. Voices sound natural and donít distract. And if James Newton Howard's top quality score isn't the absolute best of the year, I want to know what is. Howard is one of my favourite composers, and he brings a marvellous intensity to the picture that isn't exactly complemented by what's happening onscreen. Still, it's a wonderful score, and one of the brightest spots in this depressingly dull and stupid film. However, I have one extreme gripe, and that's the strange insistence that some kind of key song be inserted for no real reason right after a coyote crosses the frame, and locks eyes with both Vincent and Max. Now, I can understand the coyote (something supposedly deep about how men are just animals...meh), but a mellow song that doesn't have anything to do with the actual scene? Right.Collateral is an extremely disappointing film. While Mann's visuals have never been better, the script is one Hell of a letdown. Each flaw that I've detailed above, and even some that I havenít mentionned, happen throughout the movie's 120 minute running time. Even the small amount of tension during the conclusion is almost completely cancelled out by the fact that we know exactly how the film will turn out. Sad, especially so given the fact that this is Michael Mann's first dumb film, screenplay-wise. Hopefully, it will also be his last.
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originally posted: 08/23/04 08:47:58
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sydney Film Festival For more in the 2005 Sydney Film Festival series, click here.