I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Collateral

First off I gotta say, Michael Mann is what you call overrated. What did he do, fucking Miami Vice – some asshole who forgot to shave fighting drug dealers in a pink shirt and no socks – we’re supposed to give the guy a fucking medal? I mean yeah it seemed like a pretty good tv show at the time but it’s not the fucking Parthenon. You belong to the city, you belong to the night. Let’s be a little more humble there, Michael Mann.

(To be honest I’m not sure what the Parthenon is, but what I mean is something good enough to last the ages and always stand as a proud beacon of achievement, etc. i.e. not Everybody Loves Raymond or even Miami Vice.)

And you think his tv shows are overblown and pretentious, just watch his movies. I guess I liked Ali more than most (by which I mean sort of), but there’s something about this fucking guy. He did a good job trying to do the impossible (having an actor play Muhammad Ali). But anybody else woulda known not to try, because it’s impossible. Not Michael Mann. He probaly thinks he did it.

CollateralAnd I know every male under the age of 35 has a hard on for that movie Heat, but I don’t know. Maybe I should watch it again. All I remember is a couple amazing shootouts and 3 hours of nothing. Remember when Natalie Portman killed herself? What was that about? Maybe you guys are right. I’ll give it another shot. But I’m saying this to give you my general impression of Michael Mann: talented, but not as talented as many would have you believe. And full of himself. His movies give the impression that they think they are more Important than they actually are.

That’s why this is a better kind of Michael Mann movie for my money because what this is, instead of a Hollywood movie masquerading as Important Art, you got a regular old Hollywood movie done very artfully. In Hollywood, you know they got all these ideas for movies like, what if terrorists took over a [you name it], or what if a guy gets trapped in a phone booth by a sniper, or what if there was a serial killer who was obsessed with the Civil War, or what if a guy had a live shark in the trunk of his car and if he doesn’t win the solar car race before the timer goes off his daughter will be fed to bears, or whatever. Maybe that last one needs a little work. But this one is about what if a hitman forced a taxi driver to drive him around to kill a bunch of people. The driver is played by Jamie Foxx and the hitman is played by Tom Cruise, a very different role for him because one he is the bad guy and two he has grey hair. He also knows a little bit about jazz.

Jamie is just driving his cab, he’s having a good day so far but then luck kicks him in the stones by having him pick up this nutbag who offers him a stack of Ben Franklins to drive him to five “appointments.” He wouldn’t have had to know anything was up except during appointment numero uno the client dies, falls through a second story window and lands on the cab. Cat’s out of the bag so Tom Cruise becomes a little more forceful.

Jamie Foxx himself is not nearly as unlucky as his character. I don’t know what it is, this guy used to be doing Booty Call and dressing up as a woman on tv and doing all kinds of stupid shit, now all the sudden everybody loves him, and with good reason. I saw that movie Ray and it was pretty good. I mean it’s pretty much exactly what you expect from that type of biography movie (even has the corny text at the end telling how many albums and Grammies Ray Charles got) except that this guy Foxx is so damn good. You could argue that he’s a comedian and all he’s doing is an impression, but I don’t know. I kept catching myself forgetting it was Jamie Foxx and just thinking I was watching the real Ray Charles. The real Ray Charles making a record with Booger from Revenge of the Nerds. You talk about lucky, did you see Jamie Foxx on the Golden Globes? They had fucking Prince introducing the clips from Ray. Prince. Jamie Foxx (who was an R&B singer before he stooped to standup comedy) looked like he was about to die and go to heaven and have a big orgy with all the angels.

Well he’s good in this one too, a less showy role as a charismatic but somewhat timid guy who has to deal with being a hostage forced into taking part in murders. And actually that brings me to the Mannly portion of the movie. It is a theme throughout the movie that Jamie Foxx is too much of a sissy. He has to GROW SOME BALLS and TAKE A STAND and BE A FUCKING MAN YOU LIMP WRISTED PUSSY. That’s the message of the movie, as delivered by the heartless serial murderer who helps him find his true self. The same way E.T. flew down from space to teach Elliott how to be good, Tom Cruise took Jamie Foxx hostage to teach him to be more of a go-getter in life.

(And Michael Mann really does know how to go after what he wants. He wants to be treated as a serious artist, so he has an amazingly humorless and pretentious commentary track on the DVD. He alternates between narrating the movie shot by shot and going into way too much detail about the backstories of the characters, like he thinks they’re real people. He goes on at length about how Tom Cruise knows about jazz music from his dad, but his dad didn’t actually share his love of jazz music with his son because they weren’t close, so Tom Cruise actually resented jazz music but at the same time he learned about it inadvertently by being exposed to it, blah blah blah.)

That whole Straw Dogs grow some balls theme is macho cliche garbage, but you get that in other action movies. The one scene that is unbearably pretentious is the one where a wolf suddenly walks across the street and gives them the evil wolf eye. And before you can even savor the moment of embarassing art school symbolism, it starts playing some cheesy rock song. (Don’t worry, not “Hungry Like the Wolf” or anything. Something more modern.)

But despite all that, I liked this movie. It’s a good simple gimmick. Two opposite guys in this car together. They go to different destinations (an office building, a jazz bar, a night club, etc.) where they face loud music and physical threats, but in between it’s this intimate, quiet movie, two guys in a car talking, surrounded by Los Angeles at night. At least some of it is shot on the high definition digital electronical video type deal, and if I haven’t already I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the scientists for making this hi-def-dig-vid crap into a viable medium. I used to hate digital video and had to include a warning on any review of a movie shot on it. Now it’s so good that sometimes, like on this one, it looks better than if it was film. Well played, scientists. Well played.

Like Leon D. Caprio, I’m neutral on Tom the Cruiser. Not sure what the big deal is on this guy, but he can be pretty good sometimes, especially for a short guy playing regular sized characters (also known as the reverse hobbit). I liked him in this one. He’s just a real intense asshole killer guy, and he’s got a couple good moves, especially in this scene where he has to kill a guy in the middle of a crowded dance club. It’s no Blade but it’s a good murder in a dance club scene by any other standards.

The movie has a real heightened feel to it, somewhere between an ordinary real life cab ride and the worst night you never had. Only in the end does it start to feel more like a normal action/thriller type deal, with repeated dialogue and lessons learned and of course a chase on a subway. (All movies take place in either New York or Los Angeles and if somebody’s gonna get chased, which they are, they’re gonna jump on a subway.) But that’s okay. It already has enough momentum going at that point that it can just put it into neutral and coast into the end credits.

that last part by the way is just a general automobile metaphor, it is not supposed to be some kind of this-movie-as-taxi-cab metaphor. due to my Committment to Excellence in 2005 I’m not allowed to pull that kind of hack critic horse shit. If that was the case it would’ve been like “the fare has already been paid, plus tip, so Mann turns the meter off.” Oh jesus, how can those people look themselves in the mirror after writing that shit? Man I swear I read a review of The Life Aquatic with Bill Murray, I was underlining all the boating analogies, and there was like 12 or 13 of the motherfuckers. Like, it’s covered in the rust of whimsy and the barnacles of quirk, it sails into port with Bill Murray on the starboard side and Willem Dafoe swabbing the deck with a parrot of humor, an eyepatch of comradery and a peg leg of sorrow, ’cause his leg was bit off by the great white whale of meticulously detailed art design. I’m getting off track here though, the point is, something about Collateral. Not sure what the point was I was gonna make but I’m glad I saw the movie Collateral, it was pretty good.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 24th, 2005 at 9:42 am and is filed under Crime, Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

21 Responses to “Collateral”

  1. It was a coyote.

  2. So thankful for your Commitment to Excellence.

  3. That last paragraph is brilliant Vern.

  4. billydeethrilliams

    October 29th, 2011 at 8:28 am

    Hey Vern: could you review Thief please? I just watched it a few days ago and it may be Mann’s best. It’s not overblown like every other movie he’s done. I do however disagree with you on Heat, but it is overlong for no discernible reason.

  5. billydeethrilliams

    October 29th, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Also the ending to this sucked. Could’ve been much darker.

  6. Came here because of this passage from Vern’s review of THE TERMINAL, concerning a mysterious peanut tin:
    “It has a whole backstory to it that’s kind of sweet but also kind of fill-in-the-blanks what-quirky-thing-could-this-guy-care-about screenwritery.”

    which reminded me of the mysterious jazz music backstory stuff in COLLATERAL. I guess Vern is consistent with his disdain toward this kind of “screenwritery” “quirk”, and now we have proof. I’ll remember that for my badass screenplay (currently in development).

    I still don’t know why anyone would complain about a director going into too much depth in a director’s commentary, though.

    Anyway, if billydeethrilliams is watching, http://classic.outlawvern.com/ReviewsT.html is where you can find a review of THIEF. For readers, I recommend Ctrl F + “thief” or “james caan”. For Vern, I recommend a journey through Mann similar to what you’re now doing with Spielberg.

    Also, Griff, if you’re reading, ^here’s^ another great 2004 movie.

  7. This movie gets better every viewing.
    From *good* little “what if you were…” thriller in 2004
    to *great* but with caveats “what if you were…” thriller when I was pondering Best of 2000s
    to airtight ambitious genre thriller that has some fun with Tom Cruise becoming a slasher-killer for the climax
    to flawless philosophical art film with genre trappings.

    Maybe Vern can re-open the case in ,
    cuz I’ll gladly go shot-by-shot detail-by-detail to convince more people how impressive this movie is. Or everyone can rewatch it whenever and come to this thread and tell me to fuck off, whatever.

    COLLATERAL might be most comparable to Mann’s Luck, the one-season HBO show about, well, luck, except COLLATERAL is obviously more action-centric, more macho. Both Luck and COLLATERAL are committed to being realistic & sparse until they occasionally surprise you by reaching a dreamy/purgatorial state, taut & grounded until they expand to infinity, aimless until you see that every single decision & every glance & every word has been serving a singular purpose that pays off later.

    Especially in COLLATERAL, check out how many [almost stage theatrical] near-misses there are in the script & the framing, how many coincidences, how many references to cosmic forces & fate are juxtaposed with 50/50 chances & courageous manifestations of free will.

    Not sure how unplanned that shot of the coyotes was, but it seems to have been a gift from the gods one day while Mann & crew just happened to have the digi-cam handy. What the hell are 2 wild coyotes doing on a L.A. street? It worked for me, and if I think of it as a serendipitous marriage between literal coyote and Cruise’s coyote-like appearance & demeanor, playing into the meta-notion of luck & fate as the theme of the movie married to the nature of how this particular scene was made, then it really becomes transcendent.

    Vern doesn’t care for Michael Mann, says he is overrated & pretentious, but, to be frankly honest, Mann is way too humble. I’m not sure even he realizes what a great movie he’s made here.

  8. Yeah, but is the ending still terrible?

  9. You mean the ending where Tom Cruise suddenly turns into a generic psychopath completely out of character?

  10. That’s the one!

  11. Oh man, this movie would have been one of my alltime favourites if not for the Hollywood-typical resolution. Tom Cruise makes for no good Jason/Freddy or any kind of onedimensional horrorpsycho. That is a terrible idea.

    What the hell were they thinkning? This shit sinks the movie into b-movie oblivion.A fucking discgraceful shame of an otherwise topnotch badass crimethriller. that shit is surely shameful…

  12. The deux ex machina business that kicks in after the nightclub scene almost completely undercuts all that preceded it, much of which is brilliant. Reminded me a little of the way Heat pulled its punch at the end. In that movie, DeNiro’s character should’ve capped Waingro and gotten away clean… no hide & seek with Pacino in that field, which could only end one way.

    Point of trivia: Y’know who Mann originally offered the role of the cab driver to? Val Kilmer. Would’ve made for a much different dynamic.

  13. Yes, he wields an ax, which is a generic slasher-psychopath weapon, but he uses it only as a tool to cut off the power. And his desperation
    (revealed in how he finally starts fucking up — stumbling on an office chair, misjudging Max, being forced to guess which way his target ran instead of knowing ahead of time & controlling her behavior/positioning)
    to finish the job, his [psychopathic?] determination to find & terminate the woman, is grounded in our knowledge that the cartel who hired him is going to fuck him up if he fails, and he’s got a deadline, and the cops are on to him, and he has killed more people than he had planned. He has no choice.

    I got no problem with this, and I think it’s fun how the camera suggests he’s become a besuited Jason Voorhees while he continues to employ his unmatched tactical prowess (and makes one good 50/50 choice at the top of the subway platform stairs, because THEMES, MAN) and continues to show us how intelligent cool calm collected he still is, even while bleeding & stumbling from a flipped car at 4:30 a.m.. You see “generic psychopath,” but that’s a very cursory interpretation — that’s just what Max & the girl see & what’s most prominent when Tom Cruise’s face fills the screen. Subjective p-o-v and all that.

    Vincent never gives a damn about killing Max, possibly b/c he found a newish code of honor & saved his life in Club Fever (Ring of Hell/Purgatory symbolism), possibly b/c he knows Max is still potentially valuable in a later point of his grand improvised plan (like to confuse the cops or the cartel’s hitmen).
    So he tells him, “I do this for a living,” a statement that negates the “generic psychopath” vibe (to my ears, anyway) and reminds us how matter-of-fact he considers all this. Max is still a mere nuisance to him.

    Then there’s the John Woo-ian mano-a-mano face-to-face through-a-doorway shootout (another 50/50 proposition!), and Vincent goes again to being all business, calmly moving to reload his gun (nothing psychopathic about that, very mechanical & smart in his situation) until his injured body finally fails him for the first time. He’s still not mad at Max after this, still not out of control, not psychopathic. Vincent still considers it a job. But he finally realizes his payday isn’t going to materialize, so he takes a seat. No emotions, just surprise & disappointment in himself, as though he had just failed a quiz or had someone steal the good parking spot from him or got shut down by some random girl he wanted to hook up with.

    Not generic psychopath at all.

  14. It’s always a bummer when a movie that seems to be thinking outside the box goes for an off-the-shelf climax. Subway Foot Chase is probably Pre-Packaged Hollywood Movie Finale #4, right after Mysterious Abandoned Factory That Still Has Power & Working Machinery Shootout, Hospital Graveyard Shift Cat-And-Mouse, and We Went Up To The Roof For Some Reason.

    I’ve always meant to see the movie again to see if I’ll like it better knowing ahead of time how much the ending drops the ball. I tend to agree with Vern on Mann being talented but kind of a drag (the list of his movies that I’ve watched a second time is exceedingly short) but Mouth’s vouching for it makes me want to give it a second chance.

  15. Oh shit, you guys are like the Feds (Bruce McGill) in this movie, and I’m more like Detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo).

    The Feds watch some surveillance video, see a license plate, and hear the guy say he’s somebody he isn’t, and they assume that all the [admittedly strong] circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion that he is who the movie they watch says he is. The audio & visuals are right there; it’s clear on the surface.

    But Fanning & I see that that is a deception. We ignore the circumstantial evidence, the obvious cursory observations. He’s pretending to be someone else; the movie is pretending he’s something else. It’s more complicated, the characters aren’t who they appear to be, and we see the truth of who’s who and who has which motivations.

  16. The movie, the bad guy, and the good guys each came *this close* to having the finale set in the streets/sidewalks and not the subway. The movie had already spent almost 2 hours in the streets & sidewalks & lots & clubs of L.A.; it was definitely time to go subterranean, where, to pre-kill any lingering plot holes/contrivances, cell phones don’t work, by the way.

    And it’s not a generic action-chase-movie choice. Rather, in COLLATERAL, it’s another of those 50/50 moments, multiplied by 2, or 4 in this case because the movie deliberately stops for a beat

    first while Jamie Foxx & Jada Pinkett start to run outside & change their minds to go to the Metro

    and then stops for another beat a moment later when Tom Cruise looks at the exact same lobby, exact same exits & possibilities, hesitates the exact same way, and makes the exact same choice to go to the Metro.

    It was another 50/50 choice for him, and he picked wisely (or luckily). The visual parallelism is deliberate, fun to watch, and cliffhanger-y. It couldn’t be farther from “generic action movie ending that of course ends up in the subway.” You can see a whole fate vs. free will vs. luck battle playing out in almost every shot.

    You can tell Vincent’s 50/50 luck is running short, though, because he then has to agonize over which of 2 simultaneously trains arriving he wants to hop on. You can only call a coin flip correctly so many times in a row, and maybe he’ll finally lose one…

  17. Wow, I’m surprised I wrote all that. I remember liking the movie. I guess I gotta put “Michael Mann retrospective” on the list of shit to do.

  18. That would be awesome, Vern. HEAT is my favorite film and I’d certainly be game for a discussion of it here.

    COLLATERAL is pretty great, in my top five Mann films it would be #3, also behind THE INSIDER. Cruise managed to take what on paper could have been a rather thin and flimsy cliche of a role and made it entirely three-dimensional. Foxx is a good foil for that, and they are for each other in a way. The ending isn’t terrible, but it probably would have made for a better ending if it did stop at the crash.

  19. I agree with Mouth completely. Every time I come back to this one it seems to get better. And it’s looks incredible on Blu-Ray.

  20. Thanks,Mouth! Hopefully I have your analysis in my head next time watching COLLATERAL. I sure would like to love this movie and hopefully appreciates the climax of the movie.more than I do now. That would be so awesome. because this is a movie I just wanted to love so desperately, but i always found the climax being so incredibly forced
    (like the american remake of INSOMNIA) that it ruined the entire experience for me. I keep my fingers crossed for all the besty!

  21. Just revisited this. It’s still every bit as good as I remember from subsequent viewings after seeing it in it’s theatrical release twice. I know it’s a bit away from the chronology in your (hopefully ongoing) Mann retrospective, Vern, but this time around I really couldn’t help comparing some elements to the first DIE HARD. Some of it’s pretty obvious, but I think one thing both don’t get credit for is how slowly they start compared to most other action films. They both take about 20 minutes to establish character and geography to some extent (especially in McTiernan’s case who was obsessive about it), then it’s off to the races.

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