Foxx is Taken to the Max
If you think of a typical Tom Cruise role you tend to think of good looking, nice guys quite often with a love interest in tow. What about Jamie Foxx, well you may think of characters which have both been a little full on and slightly funny. So when you stick them both in a movie playing against type you question the sanity of the director. But Michael Mann pulls it off in "Collateral", casting Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in roles which on paper look the exact opposite of what you expect them to do and in doing so creates an impressive movie full of atmosphere which gains your attention and doesn't let go.
For Max (Jamie Foxx - Ray) his dream is to own his own Limo company but in the mean time he makes a living as a night time cabbie in Los Angeles. But Max finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when he picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise - Risky Business) a cold blooded hit man who forces him to drive him from one hit to another. Intimidated by the powerful and strong minded Vincent, Max has no choice but to do as he is told. But with the police and FBI on the trail of Vincent's work things will undoubtedly come to a head before the night is out.
Whilst the whole idea to "Collateral" of a taxi driver basically being saddled with a semi psychotic hit man is a clever one, what actually happens during the hours they are together is nothing new, it's almost a series of standard scenes and ideas that feature a cross the board in various other movies. And in fact if you watch "Collateral" more than once then those familiarities and a few plot holes start to appear. But it is impressive because on that first watch it draws you into the story slowly building up the pace and keeping you so focussed on what is happening between Vincent and Max that those weaknesses and issues are disguised by clever directing and top acting.
The thing is with "Collateral" is that the set up sort of leads you to believe that by the end of the night there will be some form of friendship and respect forming between Vincent and Max, it is what would happen in 9 out of 10 movies. But "Collateral" is different because it ends up more about Max realising that he has to act, not just in the situation with Vincent but generally when it comes to his life and dream of owning his own Limo company. The progression works well because the power balance between Vincent and Max shifts during the movie making it all feel very natural when Max finds that inner strength and belief.
Director Michael Mann who is known for his heavily stylized movies restrains his artistic and experimental tendencies just coming up short of spoiling things with too many indulgent camera angles and edits. It doesn't mean that "Collateral" is a plain movie because Mann still dips into his box of tricks and gives us some nice touches especially the over head shots. But rather than trying to dazzle with style he focuses on building up atmosphere employing more traditional methods to great effect.
But whilst for three quarters of "Collateral" it's an almost clever thriller it all ends up going a bit Hollywood and crowd pleasing with an action sequence climax which basically feels out of place in a storyline which was more about the cat n mouse interactions of Vincent and Max. I suppose in a way it works, it makes it very much a main stream movie which will give audiences what they want but it almost feels likes it's wimped out delivering unoriginality rather than something genuinely clever for the climax.
One things is for sure and "Collateral" is very much Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx's movie and as already mentioned they play against type quite brilliantly. It seems almost wrong when we first see Tom Cruise as Vincent with his grey hair, stubble and not the most fashionable of suits but then get past the look and he carries of the semi psychotic hit man perfectly delivering this cold killer with a chilling conviction. Jamie Foxx is equally good, leaving his larger than life persona behind him and finding a human touch to Max, making him believable as a taxi driver with dreams of having more. But it is together where they make it work, the shift of balance between them as the story unravels which is quite magnificent.
"Collateral" is so much Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx's movie that you have to wonder why certain bankable, or at least prominent stars agreed to appear in such minor roles. Irma P. Hall briefly appears as Max's mother and puts in an enjoyable turn with her unintentional put downs, plus Jada Pinkett Smith crops up in an almost obligatory love interest role. Then of course being a movie which features murders you need cops and agents and that is where Mark Ruffalo, Bruce McGill and Peter Berg show up in some stereotypical characters.
What this all boils down to is that "Collateral" is surprisingly good. You don't expect Tom Cruise to play a psychotic hit man or Jamie Foxx to play a Mr Average taxi driver but they pull it off and what happens during that one night as Vincent goes about his job makes for engrossing viewing even more so due to Mann restraining his stylish tendencies to focus on creating atmosphere.