UK release date: Sep 8 2009

cast list

Tom Cruise
Jamie Foxx
Jada Pinkett Smith
Mark Ruffalo

directed by
Michael Mann

One night, in the anonymous, 17 million people sprawl of Los Angeles, cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx) picks up a professional lady passenger (Jada Pinkett Smith). She tells him how to get to her destination – he suggests an alternative. They make a bet; if she’s right, she rides for free. The two like each other and open up – she’s a prosecutor, he has dreams of a limo business. He wins the bet.

The absorbing opening tableau of Michael Mann’s film makes it clear that we’re in for something that’s a cut above the usual wall-to-wall action sequence thriller. We get to know the two characters involved, both of whom are central to the film, and for the most part believe they’re real people in a real cab. It’s boy-meets-girl – we want them to do well. She emerges from the cab; he wishes he’d asked for her number; she turns back to give him her card.

In steps his next fare – Vincent (Tom Cruise), another smartly dressed customer who offers seven hundred dollars for Max to drive him to multiple destinations. Max is having a great night, and indulges in a sandwich as Vincent makes his first stop. Then a body falls from a fourth floor window onto the cab. Vincent tells Max “the bullets and the fall killed him”. Max’s night isn’t going so well after all.

Essentially, Collateral then becomes a study in the relationship dynamic between a contract killer and a man in fear for his life who is forced to assist in the killing spree. They’re two characters who could easily be two-dimensional, but Cruise and Foxx, and scriptwriter Stuart Beattie, bring much more to our attention with subtle touches. Introducing the vast sprawl of night-time LA almost as a background character works a treat as well. Vincent is chastised by Max for taking life. As anyone who’s been to LA knows, what he says sounds horribly true – if you die, who’d notice in this place?

We take a tour through the metropolis’ Hispanic and Asian scenes, finding time to stop in a club playing Calexico. We stop in a jazz bar for a eulogy on Miles Davis. And of course, the body count rises along the way.

The twist in the tale sets up a rollicking finale involving the recently opened Metro Gold Line – and each piece of action comes as something new, something interesting.

Collateral is pacy, well-acted and a film that’s well thought through, one or two nonsequitors around mid-point aside. Foxx in particular is superb and utterly convincing, and Smith’s character is far more interesting than a typical damsel in distress could be. A Hollywood action film with interesting characters? Go see.

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