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Collateral - DVD Review

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</script></div>{/googleAds}"Millions of people die everyday, but one fat Angelino falls out of a window and you start crying like a sissy." -Vincent

If there is a tighter director than Michael Mann currently working, then I don't want to know. If there is a better paced and plotted film out this year, I have yet to see it. Collateral is a work of splendid gritty reality, an exercise in both restraint and wildness. It is nearly flawless.

Say what you want about Tom Cruise; it's easy to think he's coasted on his smile and good looks, but with forays into territory such as Collateral presents, his strengths in acting become especially apparent. He plays Vincent, a viciously efficient and brutal hitman who has been contracted to kill five government witnesses in a high profile drug cartel case. His conscience-free actions are as psychopathic as they are calculated, and his methods are simple: kill all who stand in his way.

Jamie Foxx, not an actor I particularly respect, is Max Durocher, a taxi driver who has convinced himself that he's saving up for a limousine company. He is likeable and honest, a refreshment from such douche characters as Willie Beaman in Any Given Sunday, and thankfully, plays Max as low-key as possible--I suspect Mann carefully carved that performance from Foxx, so as not to overshadow the importance of Cruise's character, and to respect the direction of the story. Max is certainly no hero, though at the critical juncture he overcomes his own beliefs about himself to break free from the mould Vincent has painted him into.

Vincent's use of Max to ferry him around to the different hits becomes a play of wills; Vincent is superior in strength, adaptability, and is unhampered by morals or fear. Max is completely bound to the constructs of his surroundings and his mother's antagonistic doting (as paradoxical as it seems); her overwhelming presence in Max's life is as sure as his inability to overcome his taxi-bound inertia. He is also an unwilling accessory to Vincent's agenda, playing for time and for his own moral stability.

What drives Collateral is not its relentless escalation of events (though certainly that does occur), but its emphatic insistence that we become invested in and begin to love both Max and Vincent. Vincent's waxing reflection, his distribution of packets of pseudo-philosophical acumen, combined with his veneer of humour and arrogance is antithetical to his physical violence, his lifestyle, and his mission. The contrasts are so well developed and so well played by Cruise, that sympathy and even a secret, tacit approval of Vincent's actions are met and matched by loathing for his behaviour and dislike for his use of Max. Though unlovable, Vincent manages to attract our sensibilities, and by the end, musters our sympathy, as undeserved and unasked for as it is.

Mann makes great use of location to parallel the lives of the characters. When Max first picks up Vincent, he asks Vincent if he likes Los Angeles. Vincent replies that LA has the 17th largest economy in the world, yet it is filled with people who don't know each other. The distances that separate people are utilized throughout to expand upon the situation in which Max and Vincent find themselves. Overhead helicopter shots imply a gulf, despite the network of city lights and streets; close-quartered club scenes finds Max alone in a crowd, while Vincent brutally dispatches his prey and bystanders with a brazen coldness one has when unencumbered with personal or social conscience. Interestingly enough, a policeman, played by Mark Ruffalo, does make contact with Max in the club, but is cut down by Vincent in the open street outside--Max's connection with another human being is instantly vapourized by the harsh reality of the situation, mirroring the emptiness on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Later on, in a deserted office, Vincent makes his play against his final mark, destroying the lights to create a negative space where each character only shows up as sillhouettes against the backdrop of an empty city. Even the final shot echoes this theme of distance and space, with Max and Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith) huddled together on the side of the interstate, the gloomy morning beginning to illuminate the slowly building traffic of cars with darkened interiors.

Mann's camera is never far from Max or Vincent's face. The full range of each character is thusly placed within the context of the face, disembodied from the surroundings. The film was shot with a HD digital camera, expressing a gritty palette that is at once wholly engrossing and yet at the same time, places a distance between the audience and the film, completing the thematic purpose of the film itself. While film is warm and comforting, Mann's video is cold, calculating, and without feeling--the connection between the hypnotic effect of filmstock movies is not present here, and so we feel a distance. This makes the performances, especially Cruise's and Ruffalo's, even more impressive. Their pathos transcends the salient divide created through the camera work, and the result is nothing less than a complete display of controlled ferocity, frightened durability, and hardbitten ingenuity.

If there is a fault to Collateral, it is the ending, which seems more synched to a modern cliche'd gunfight, reducing the complexities and depth of character to mere caricatures. The passion and darkly humanistic beginning is glossed over, and a crescendo of messy and unrealistic scenes, ratcheted to a heightened state of tension, takes its place. The result is a somewhat numb ending that rather belies the meat of its more interesting and tantalizing origins. While not wholly disappointing, it is somewhat less than that what it might have been. Even so, Collateral makes the high marks for its interesting and well developed story, its complex characters, and thematic focus.


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