Today we climb into the back seat of Collateral, a terrific 2004 action thriller movie, for an unforgettable ride with the great director Michael Mann at the wheel.
It’s late on an ordinary evening in Los Angeles, and young cab driver Max has just started his shift.
Everything is as usual, nothing out of the ordinary, and he even flirts with a beautiful famous lawyer.
However, the story changes when a sleek, grizzled man gets into his cab, saying his name is Vincent, and wants to rent his services exclusively for the entire night.
Initially hesitant, Max, when he sees $600 waving in front of his eyes, agrees to accompany the client to conclude his business in five stops along the city.
When they arrive at the first stop, however, Vincent enters an apartment building, and a few minutes later, a dead body plummets from a balcony directly onto the cab’s roof.
The poor taxi driver then realizes he is accompanying an assassin to kill targets, all people involved in one way or another in a trial against a dangerous South American trafficker, Felix Reyes-Torrena.
At that point, he cannot escape; otherwise, Vincent would kill him as well, and when he later learns of the hospital where his mother is hospitalized, he threatens to kill her too.
At the same time, a tenacious and clever LAPD Detective is working on the bodies they are leaving behind, successfully linking the victims with the dangerous Felix.
Murder after murder, Max eventually realizes he must rebel somehow, or death will also be inevitable for him.
Once he realizes the last target on the list is someone he cares deeply about, he will think no more about running away but only about trying to block the unstoppable Vincent.
The asphalt prison of modern men
Michael Mann is one of the best crime movie directors of his generation.
Since the early 1980s, with movies such as Thief and Manhunter, he focused on the dark side of humanity and the dynamics of criminal worlds.
However, his career also was marked by other work showing his extraordinary versatility as a director.
One of these is 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, a historical drama featuring the story of a white man adopted by an Indian tribe during the Franco-Indian War.
Alternatively, we can cite 1983’s The Keep, another example where Mann tries his hand at horror, chronicling the nightmare of a group of German soldiers that must guard an ancient Romanian castle haunted by an evil force.
Although the latter was a flop, and some consider it a misstep in his career, I consider it one of the strangest, most elegant, original horror flicks of the 1980s.
One thing all these movies have in common is the unique style the director has developed over the years, combining an adventurous pace with engaging visual realism through consistently meticulous photography.
Moreover, these worlds he narrates never have characters sharply divided into good and evil; instead, they are ambiguous and often escape any moral definition.
Collateral brings together many of the aspects of these movies in 2004, condensing them into a fast-paced adventure unfolding in the span of a single night.
The characters never pause but constantly move toward their target, going with the flow, as says the hitman played by a glacial (but also human) and astonishing Tom Cruise.
In this hunt, Los Angeles becomes an asphalt jungle, as emphasized toward the end by a wolf crossing the street in front of these two men in the cab. The animal is truly free, while they never will be.
The best White-Haired Gunslinger
Regarding the cast of Collateral, this 2004 movie features numerous celebrities who deliver simply outstanding performances.
Above them all, I place the Tom Cruise mentioned above, especially aged with makeup that gives him an even more unyielding appearance while fresh from rigid military training imposed by the director.
This is undoubtedly the one I found most enthralling among the many roles in his career dear Tom has played.
With Mann’s virtuoso direction, his figure becomes a stylish and unstoppable Terminator in action scenes, used to moving with speed and efficiency, always one step ahead of the police and his enemies.
Completely the opposite, on the other hand, is the taxi driver played by Jamie Foxx, who, with great humility, leaves aside his usual irresistible cool attitude to become the ordinary citizen passing by us every day along the road.
Like us, he too has his dreams, like opening his limo service or courting a lawyer with the sexy body and face of Jada Pinkett Smith.
Regarding the latter, let’s face it: okay, the twist about her is a bit forced… yet what the hell, after all, we are watching an adventure story, so what does it matter anyway?
Finally, the essential character is the great Los Angeles, a city that never sleeps, pulsing with all the ethnic colors of America and dancing to the beat of every genre of all existing music.
Indeed, around the delicate notes of superb composer James Newton Howard are the jazz of the great Miles Davis, Latin ballads, and unbridled techno disco…not to mention my absolute favorite track, Groove Armada‘s stunning Hands of Time.