Night Cruise

Michael Manns nerve-rattling Collateral

It's a virtuoso sequence, at once funny and terrifying. But after an hour and a half of this, one feels jittery, enervated and unable to focus on the relationship unfolding between the cracks of the gunplay. Mann has always been better at taking the pulse of a city than getting a bead on the hearts of men (like so many noir auteurs, he has never quite known what to do with women and sex). In Heat, the overwrought kinship between Pacino and De Niro—opposites attract, then find they have more in common than they want to know—always struck me as pat and banal, and the ending, in which Pacino holds De Niro's hand while he dies, was hopelessly sentimental. Max and Vincent's enforced intimacy promises something tougher and more tender. Early on in Collateral, we learn that Max, who's been working his night shift for 12 years ("It's only temporary," he keeps repeating), dreams of starting his own celebrity limousine company in Vegas but claims he can't get it off the ground because "everything has to be just perfect." Played by Foxx with relaxed ease, Max is stuck, and he sort of knows it, and Mann means to suggest that only a doer like Vincent can jolt him out of his rut.

As the movie's mischievously topical title suggests, Vincent operates in a universe that has crossed the line from "nobody's indispensable" to "everybody's disposable." Unlike Max, an identifiable Angeleno, he comes from nowhere and commits to nothing except his job. Vincent re-defines the meaning of a real pro, and there's no one better suited to play him than Cruise, with his anonymous good looks—there are hundreds just like him playing volleyball on Santa Monica beaches or eating out in West Hollywood—and his anodyne competence as an actor. It takes a dreamer like Max to break Vincent's stride, and as the movie draws to a close, something almost human seems to stir in the sociopath, while the loser gathers strength and—literally, in one of the movie's funniest scenes—speed.

Mann loves fusing this kind of polarity, perhaps because it ties together his own irreconcilable leanings—the old-fashioned nihilist who created Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter vs. the idealistic Madison, Wisconsin, New Left radical who took on the tobacco companies in The Insider, a movie fired as much by moral passion as by a definable cinematic style. Like Heat, Collateral will doubtless go down in film history as the noir marvel it undoubtedly is, but I don't quite buy its characters, and I came out of the theater still wondering what it had to say. Me, I have a soft spot for that old '60s radical.

COLLATERAL WAS DIRECTED BY MICHAEL MANN; WRITTEN BY STUART BEATTIE; PRODUCED BY MANN AND JULIE RICHARDSON; AND STARS TOM CRUISE AND JAMIE FOXX. NOW PLAYING COUNTYWIDE.

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