When enjoying a film, there really is something to be said for eye-candy. And by that I’m not referring to budget-busting CGI or legions of glistening models that have decided to take a second career in acting. Certainly, Hollywood has no shortage of these sorts of productions, usually PG-13 creations intended as a cynical business proposal first and artistic endeavor second. Instead, I’m referring to the older and far more fundamental art of cinematography. It’s easy to forget the craft in a new age of dazzling visual effects, but films still ultimately result from a combination of performance and camera. Movies are photographic art, and without a capable cinematographer or director of photography to guide that second half of the film equation, no amount of visual effects can make a movie beautiful. However, the 2004 movie Collateral directed by Michael Mann respects this photographic tradition in beautiful fashion.
Cabbie and aspiring businessman Max (Jamie Foxx) begins yet another nightly grind operating his taxi on the neon streets of Los Angeles. After years of toil in an attempt to begin his own limo service, Max seems no closer to living out his dream but holds his head up high regardless. While doing his rounds, Max picks up the snappily dressed Vincent (Tom Cruise) who convinces him to rent out his cab for the entire night. Unusual as his requests to be ferried about are, Max seems willing to accommodate Vincent until he stumbles upon his violent handiwork. Now a hostage of this increasingly dangerous passenger, Max must work quickly to save himself and those he holds dear.
Collateral isn’t just an excellent film, it’s also a love letter to Los Angeles. I’ve seen no other movie that paints such a glorious picture of this city with its shots of shimmering nightlife, playful shadows, and neon reflections. Really, the city has so much personality it might as well be another character. With its sweeping shots filmed almost entirely in the dead of night, this is a project that would’ve been difficult to film correctly even for experienced cinematographers, but the cinematic expertise of Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron comes through in every shot. Despite dealing with some weird aging makeup and plot scenarios that make us wonder just how competent Vincent really is, Cruise nails his action sequences perfectly and emanates menace effectively. Jamie Foxx is just great as Max, likeable, vulnerable, and filled with determination all at the same time. His dramatic scenes struggling with Vincent’s callous nature all crackle with intensity.
Looking for powerful drama and stylish action in one film? Take a look at Collateral, I don’t think you’ll regret it.