Jessie Lilley
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Collateral - 2004

Directed by Michael Mann.

Starring Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardam and Barry Shabaka Henley. Written by Stuart Beattie Scored by James Newton Howard.

On The Shelves Rating: 3 chilled bottles of bubbly and 3 popped corks—now go buy another bottle!

Jessie’s Theatre Viewing Rule 1 applies. (Trust me, your legs won’t work for awhile anyway so sit still and watch the credits.)

A long time ago when I was still in my early teens, I came home from school one afternoon and—being a ‘good girl’—did my homework. Dropping it off with my mother I then went to the den and turned on the TV, just in time for the “4:30 Movie” on Channel 7 (ABC in NYC). That day’s feature was The Killing (56) It starred Sterling Hayden and was directed by Stanley Kubrick in glorious black & white—and it rocked. Wow! This was a combination caper/thriller. It grabbed me from the start and spit me out when it was done. There have been several good thrillers that I’ve seen since then, but usually they’re classic films from the 30s, 40s or 50s. Rarely have I enjoyed an intelligent script wherein I was captured, held and ultimately released back into the real world, that was put out in the last 30 years. It’s something that should be available whenever the viewing public enters a theatre but sadly, they are few and far between. These precious few are the things that Oscars are awarded for.

Collateral is one such film.

Shall I tell you what worked in this film? Yes? All right. Everything. The script makes you think and doesn’t telegraph the answers five minutes ahead of time. I’m pretty good at this stuff. Being a mystery lover, I can figure plots out pretty easily and I love it when they make me think. I’m even more pleased when they keep me guessing up until the last minute. This one did. I knew where we were going—after a fashion—but I couldn’t pinpoint who was gonna get what and frankly, it surprised me all the way. The worst part was that I cared about everybody in the film. Cruise just gets better and better. He’s borrowed the trick from the great silver screen villains of yesteryear (like Robert Quarry in Count Yorga, Vampire [70]). Any villain worth his salt thinks of himself as the good guy and how the character views himself comes across on screen. As a result you have a thoroughly horrible person who is sympathetic and you find yourself cheering for him as well as all the other ‘good guys.’ You’ll read a lot of interviews where actors say, “These things happen instinctively.” To quote Quarry, “Of course they happen instinctively—if you’re thinking about them!” (Worldly Remains #3, magazine interview 2000).

Tom Cruise is a thinking actor and as Vincent he captivates, charms and scares the hell out of you. His character switches an emotional button in his mind and becomes ‘the killer.’ When ‘the killer’ is there, he is a machine. He has no emotion on his face, it’s a complete deadpan. He walks and runs over, under and through anything in his way to gain his ultimate goal. Then he flips the switch again and an amusing, intelligent and charming man is chatting with you from the backseat of a cab. The worst part is that you want him to succeed.

Unless of course you’re Jamie Foxx, and you just want him to go away. Foxx is as good as Cruise and that’s saying something. His performance was of the highest caliber and all the cheap jokes he could have gone for were ignored in favor of the far more riveting acceptance of his situation which, incidentally, will make you laugh your ass of on occasion. It will also pull you six ways for Sunday because you lose track of who you should get behind. They’re both nice men. They both have lives, aspirations, dreams and insight—and you want both of them to live. But, you know, that can’t happen. Someone’s gotta go. And when that man goes, the light goes out of his eyes and out of the film. There’s nothing more to do but walk away and go home.

The chemistry between Foxx and Cruise is movie magic. They are a hell of a team and obviously put in extensive preparation and rehearsal time. This was not an easy film to do. Speaking of chemistry, let’s talk Foxx and Jada Pinkett Smith. The cab ride to Smith’s office building downtown is one of the most comfortable connections ever enjoyed by a viewing audience. It brought a sweet, wide smile to my face and I found myself thinking, “Oh man. I hope they get together!” Their interplay was delicious.

Javier Bardam and Barry Shabaka Henley occupy pivotal roles in the film: Bardam as the representative of Cruise’s ‘employers’ and Henley as a witness for the prosecution who also happens to own a jazz joint near Crenshaw where our daring duo stop to take a break from the night’s festivities. Both give their usual standout work but I must say that Henley’s character is a heartbreaker. [Oh man—there is never enough jazz in the world for me.]

Michael Mann’s direction was perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing. The film’s editors Jim Miller and Paul Rubell are worthy of an Academy nod here as are Mann and James Newton Howard for the score. While they’re nodding, I hope the Academy won’t forget Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

I haven’t yet written up The Manchurian Candidate (04) and for all I know I may never get to it, but I did enjoy it. I like smart work and TMC is very smart work. But Collateral is one for the record books. Don’t miss it.

—Jessie Lilley

Originally published at the now defunct www.ontheshelves.com


© 2004 by Jessie Lilley