The story takes place over the course of one long night in the Los Angeles area, and I think "Collateral" does a great job of capturing the flavor of the vibrant, diverse, sprawling megalopolis. Mann drives us around the freeways and boulevards and alleys, making stops in downtown, Koreatown, a Latino nightclub, and a jazz club. He shot mostly in high-definition video so we can see evocative background details like graffiti and trees in the city's strangely diffuse street lighting. The cityscapes are as important to the movie as the plot and characters.
Tom Cruise, with steely gray hair and wearing a gray suit, portrays a ruthlessly professional contract killer, and the icy coldness in his eyes in close-ups made his character very convincing to me. I think this is one of Cruise's best performances, but I suppose I should mention that if there's anything at all likable about his character, I can't think what it would be.
Jamie Foxx, on the other hand, plays a very likable Everyman, and his role is every bit as important as Cruise's. I think Foxx is brilliant in the movie, and my favorite scenes are those where he and Cruise deliver dialogue exchanges.
In "Collateral," Max (Foxx) is driving his taxicab around L.A. as he has for years when he picks up a fare outside a downtown office building. That fare turns out to be a contract killer named Vincent (Cruise), who plans to carry out a series of hits over the next several hours. As a result of his encounter with Vincent, Max goes on a hellacious long night's journey during which he learns something about himself.
In addition to the outstanding work of Foxx and Cruise, I was very impressed with the supporting cast in "Collateral" as well, particularly Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Irma P. Hall.
I liked the pacing in "Collateral." There are outbursts of violent action, but lots of time is spent in quiet conversation. Mann slows things down for memorable quirky incidents that are more about mood than they are about narrative. A good example of this is when Max and Vincent see coyotes (the four-legged kind) crossing a city street in the wee small hours.
The DVD provides feature-length commentary by director Michael Mann, and you can either listen to it on an audio track or read it in the form of subtitles. I have to say that Mann's commentary is astonishingly wide-ranging . He's the first director I've ever heard use the phrase "a paroxysm of regret." He says he studied Cary Grant in "Front Page" in developing a certain aspect of Vincent's character. Mann also talks about locations he used for "Collateral," describing El Rodeo in Pico Rivera as a "norteño disco." And he claims he once saw coyotes near the intersection of Sunset and Fairfax when he was taking his babysitter home.
The "Collateral" DVD is a two-disc set with the feature film and director commentary on Disc One, while Disc Two contains bonus materials. The video bonus materials run a total of less than an hour, and I found them reasonably entertaining. There's a 41-minute making-of, where we learn that 17 different versions of Max's taxicab were used in shooting the movie. There's a short featurette where Tom Cruise impersonates a Fed Ex guy at Grand Central Market, a bustling bazaar in downtown L.A. There's another featurette showing Cruise and Jamie Foxx rehearsing dialogue, and I must admit I was impressed. On the next page, I've listed all the special features of the "Collateral" two-disc DVD set.
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