Despite Michael Mann’s expertise on the film “look,” the HD video Collateral was shot on looks exquisite, and is just right for the material. If there was one thing I liked about Mann’s Ali, it was the fights, and the way they were photographed, an almost 3-D effect of being there. Mann manages to similarly redefine two shots in Collateral, with Jamie Foxx on the right looking hyper-real in the blue-brown tint and Tom Cruise shadowed in the background on the left and slightly out of focus.
There are a huge number of pointless cutaways of flash and glitz, multi-colored reflections off of buildings and cars, vast, “LA is alive” wide shots from inside skyscrapers looking out on the city, and everything you would expect from Mann, soundtrack of late 90’s techno mixed with atmospheric synth pop Tangerine Dreamish music, included.
And for 2/3 of the film, I was sucked in. Cruise is believable and reliably cocky, Foxx gets across the sadness and desperation of his being, a lonely man lying to himself about his life and not knowing how to deal with the gravity of the situation he is involved in. But somebody at the conventional farm took over act III and produced contrived nonsense taken from 1000’s of other movies that manage not to become a parodies of themselves in the way that this does.
There’s even a specific moment it occurs, and I guess it is symptomatic of who the characters represent. Cruise is standing in for Mann as the relaxed control freak, and once Cruise’s character loses some of that control and has to rely on Foxx, the movie goes with him. There is a club scene shootout that is badly edited, confusing in terms of the geography, and makes little sense (Cruise kills a number of people in hand to hand combat before anyone has any reaction, despite the place being covered in cops) and this is the scene that begins the movie’s search to continuously top itself in the ridiculous department. Granted, a previous scene where Foxx has to pretend to be Cruise doesn’t help, and Foxx rather oddly plays his character inconsistently from then on, but Javier Bardem, associated with those who hired Cruise, saves what’s left of the tension in that moment.
The movie relies on so many clichés and narrative conveniences in the conclusion, the cell phone is out of range at a key moment (in the middle of LA?) and then, of course, the battery dies when the person on the other end of the line needs to hear them most, not to mention why there would be numerous trains running through the station in the middle of the night, usually when there would be less activity, and there’s much more, but I won’t ruin it for those who want to see it anyway.
In fact, Collateral reminded me a lot of Conspiracy Theory, which was a great, nervy, unpredictable thriller for about 75 minutes, until the Lethal Weaponese kicked in, and the rest of it was on auto-pilot, invalidating the effectiveness of the opening.