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    Sunday, August 08, 2004

    Movie: Collateral (2004)

    Michael Mann has done the impossible: he’s made an entire movie set in Los Angeles where the primary modes of transportation are a taxi and the subway. This film may do more to improve smog conditions than the Prius.

    Mann is an Oscar-nominated, world-class director, but he made his bones on the crime beat: MIAMI VICE, THIEF, RED DRAGON. (Call it MANHUNTER if you want, but we all know it deserves Thomas Harris’ title.) It’s good to have him back. COLLATERAL is a fleet, supple and alluring thriller. For Mann, it practically qualifies as a romp. He doesn’t strain for significance here, as he occasionally did in 1995’s epic cops-and-robbers drama HEAT. He simply takes a crackerjack premise – a hit man in town for one night forces a cab driver to become his accomplice – and pushes it as far as it can go.

    The director’s unerring eye for casting makes it easier. Tom Cruise’s greatest strength as an actor has always been his self-awareness. He knows he can’t camouflage his own intensity, so he often chooses roles where it becomes integral to the character (MAGNOLIA, JERRY MAGUIRE). Leave it to Mann to realize that Cruise’s superhuman drive would make him a truly merciless sociopath. Cruise is up to the challenge. Instead of turning off his legendary smile, he employs it to chilling effect, wielding it like a samurai sword.

    Jamie Foxx has a far more difficult task: to make a man whose sole defining quality is his innate decency compelling. He pulls it off without seeming to break a sweat. Foxx was terrific in ANY GIVEN SUNDAY and ALI, and on the basis of the trailer alone, I’m ready to give him the Oscar for his work as Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s biopic.

    Mann directs like a master jazz man, allowing plenty of other great actors – Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, Irma P. Hall – to jam for a while, going off on crazy riffs that bring you back to the melody in surprising ways. It goes without saying that the movie is a treat to look at; Mann’s stylishness is on full, glorious display here, Cruise’s monochromatically gray appearance being only the most obvious example. He filmed 80% of the movie on high-definition digital video, on the theory that those cameras “see better” in the dark. The results are up on the screen. The night itself is alive under Mann’s gaze. Watching this movie, you’re getting a glimpse of the future of the medium.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    The people behind Trivial Pursuit have declared my adopted hometown of Seattle the quintessential city of the ‘90s. It’s official: I’m living in the past. When an honor is bestowed on you by Kato Kaelin, you know it’s going to stick. I walked past the Trivial Pursuit time capsule yesterday. I didn’t see Kato or Nancy Kerrigan, but I did encounter a Bono lookalike. And a guy dressed as Austin Powers screamed “Shagadelic!” into my face.

    Meanwhile, my actual hometown of New York City has a bigger show than the Republican National Convention to deal with as Lebowski Fest rolls into town.

    Miscellaneous: Meaningless Milestone

    This is my 100th post. Free coffee and donuts in the back of the hall.


    Congratulations on your 100th post!


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