Collateral

2004, Movie, R, 120 mins

Review

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Michael Mann's tight, implausible thriller is all sleek, glistening surface, so hypnotic, propulsive and crammed with vivid performances that it seems mean-spirited to point out that it's essentially an urban variation on THE HITCHER (1986) with nothing much going on underneath. Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) tells himself driving a taxi is a temporary gig, but 11 years later he's no closer to realizing his dream of starting a limousine company. Max likes driving at night: The snarls in L.A.'s tangle of freeways and surface roads are less knotty, passengers seem a little less harried and occasionally he gets a nice conversation going, like his brief, flirtatious banter with high-powered lawyer Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith), whom he drops off at a downtown office building. Max's next passenger, an anonymous-looking businessman with a brush of silver hair, matching steel-gray suit and a laptop, needs a cabbie willing to ferry him around all night and is willing to pay handsomely. Max agrees to play chauffeur for the brisk but apparently genial Vincent (Tom Cruise), and if he's suspicious that Vincent's first "business meeting" is at a rundown apartment complex, he keeps it to himself. Then a corpse plummets from a window onto the roof of Max's impeccably clean cab; Vincent's response — he stashes the body in the trunk — racks the situation into sharp and unsettling focus. Max has a contract killer in the backseat, an assassin with four more appointments to keep and a captive audience for his windy philosophical musings about the random cruelty of the universe. Cocooned in the cozy cab interior, they seem eerily isolated as they glide through the darkened streets. But their paths are converging with those of two sets of law-enforcement officers: a pair of LAPD detectives (Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg) with suspicions about the sudden surfeit of apparently unrelated corpses shot with identical precision, and an FBI drug task force. Like Stuart Beattie's script, Cruise's performance is sharp but shallow, and there's more than a little Dr. Hannibal Lecter in Vincent — the brilliantly self-rationalizing Lecter played by Brian Cox in Mann's MANHUNTER (1986), not Anthony Hopkins' hammy überloon. He's in love with the sound of his own dyspeptic rhetoric, a silky Satan trolling for souls to corrupt; his self-absorption leads him to underestimate the fundamentally decent Max, who counters Vincent's poisonous blandishments with reserves of ingenuity and nerve Max never imagined he had. Mann polishes this familiar material to a hard, high sheen and delivers a great, darkly seductive ride. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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