Monday, December 26, 2011

Ten Statements About....COLLATERAL (2004)

In this movie, Jason Statham is not the baddest mofo in the
"Tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody's killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eyelash, Max? Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save The Whales, Greenpeace or something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit."

1) You know why I truly like this movie? Michael Mann takes three actors I honestly don't care for, two of which I think are truly lazy in their choice of films and their performances...and wrings performances out of them that thoroughly blow me away.

2) And it's not just the performances. Notice how Mann chooses to use a dark, deep color palette for the majority of the film--not because it looks cool (which it does), but because it makes Tom Cruise's Vincent, with his grey hair and suit, stand out from everything else, an unwelcome interloper in Max's world.

3) Of course, before Vincent makes the scene, Mann takes his time not only setting up Max's world but letting the scene between him and Annie unfurl at a leisurely pace. This opening conversation does two things--it actually establishes a chemistry and a selfish reason for Max to want to save Annie later, and also ties into the whole theme of coincidence that seems to run as an undercurrent in this film. That Jada Pinkett Smith and Jamie Foxx are able to dial themselves down so that we get a sense of these two people as people, and understand why Annie might have an attraction to Max, gives that aspect of the film a veracity so many other thrillers don't bother to establish.

4) Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Tom Cruise's performance here is the way you get a sense that Vincent has some strange form of feeling (respect? like?) toward Max. It's not exactly conveyed in a conventional way, but see how he encourages Max to stand up to boss or builds Max up in his mother's eye--this is one professional recognizing another and endeavoring to help him out. Hell, even that sneering monologue where Vincent mocks Max for never really intending to get his limo company off the ground can be construed as a pep talk to motivate him to move forward with his life.  Even after Max tries to sabotage his agenda, Vincent seems somewhat protective of him (he doesn't carry through on his promise to kill his mother even hen Max actively hinders him).

Two professionals in a taxi cab...but it's not confessions
that are fueling this trip....
5) Of course, would this film have worked if Cruise wasn't willing to let go of his own vanity and let his real self show up on screen...and such a simple thing as showing up unshaven with grey hair severs the man on the screen to our perception of Cruise as a star. And similar de-glamorization happens with our other leads.

He may look like an ally...but this film
isn't about wrapping things up into
neat little packages...
6) Another thing I love about Mann--he loves actors who look like real people, not actors. Who else has used Bruce McGill as often as he has? Even the smallest roles--Javier Bardem showing up as a crime boss for a single extended scene, or Debbie Mazur and Bodhi Elfman popping up to argue in the back of Max's cab seem like real people, which adds to the realism of this world Mann is presenting.

7) And speaking of McGill's Pedrosa--I appreciate how the script by Stuart Beattie builds up both his and Mark Ruffalo's Detective Fanning's role...only to have them unceremoniously killed off during the sequence at Fever. This just emphasizes the whole coincidence theme, and makes Vincent come off not as the cool, collected pro he passes himself off as, but as a chaotic force of nature.

8) I have to say--while I can accept the use of many of the songs in the film since they're ambient noise tied into specific locations, the sudden appearance on the soundtrack of that one ballad after the coyotes cross the street in front of Max's cab briefly shocked me out of the film. It's not just because it's so out of character with James Newton Howard's bluesy film noir score, but because it's the one note of artifice in a film that up until then has tried to keep its feet somewhat in the realistic.

9) I had always heard that Peter Berg started his career as an actor--but I never recognized him as such until seeing him here...and ironically it's his character's inability to accept Fanning's insistence that there's a pattern to the events of this night that saves him.

10) And one of the great things that Beattie's script does is makes Max's motives selfish on some level. Yes, he is doing something heroic when he throws Vincent's briefcase containing his agenda onto the highway--but only after he feels ashamed by Vincent's lying on his account. Yes, he tries to stop Vincent by causing a car wreck--but only after Vincent mocks him. Yes, he works hard to save Annie--but there's always the nagging feeling that he does so because he knows and is attracted to her, as opposed to the previous victims.

Overall...a magnificent little thriller with echos of noir fueled by the exceptional performances by Cruise and Foxx (and to a lesser extent Pinkett Smith), a clever, smart and philosophical script by Beattie, and Mann's excellent muted direction.

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