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:: Collateral

Max (Jamie Fox) is a dreamer who’s been working as a Los Angeles cab driver for the last twelve years. His taxi is his castle. Over the course of one night he meets and connects with prosecuting attorney Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), before being taken hostage by contract killer Vincent (Tom Cruise).

The latest film from director/producer Michael Mann (The Insider, Ali, and Heat), Collateral is a very impressive and intelligent European-style thriller that may be the first feature shot on digital camera to gross more than $100 million at the US box office.

Transformed by a shock of salt and pepper-coloured hair, Cruise gives his best performance in years as the Terminator-like Vincent, who remarks “I’m just doing my job” as he destroys his targets. While the action is gripping, scriptwriter Stuart Beattie gives us insight into both characters as they draw uneasy lessons from each other. There’s also space and silence in the film, evoked by Mann’s unconventional depiction of Los Angeles. At one stage, Max’s taxi pauses while two coyotes cross the road – the wildness in central LA shadows Vincent’s inner savagery. To Max, like the coyotes, Vincent will remain an enigma to the end.

Collateral’s short time frame heightens tension, but in a less self-conscious way than TV series 24. Numerous close-ups and innovative camera angles are used to further the story, rather than distract the viewer. Appropriately, high definition digital photography gives a sometimes grainy and gritty look to the film. Mann chose this medium because its distinct colour palette helped better capture the city at night.

In Collateral we see a talented filmmaker in control of his medium. No screen time is wasted on cliched plot developments or unnecessary characters. Instead the three main actors are given room to display their capabilities, supported by Mark Ruffalo as a narcotics detective, Javier Bardem as a crime boss and the city itself.