Collateral review by Matt Fuerst


This isn't going to be a review of Collateral as much as my commentary on the film. Yes, I'll do the usual routine, a brief synopsis followed by some thoughts, but really, watching Collateral fills me up with a ton of questions. "Why did Mann do this?" and "What exactly was writer Stuart Beattie going for here?" and "Why the hell is going on with Jamie Foxx's character?" are all questions I shall attempt to address.

So, Collateral. Anticipation was quite high for the release of Collateral, I remember it fairly well. We have director Michael Mann, who has an impeccable record of high quality, adult heist/action movies (Heat, Thief, Miami Vice) teams up with Oscar winner Jamie Foxx and Oscar winner Tom Cruise (just kidding, only one of those guys has an Oscar, I think). Collateral draws some very clear lines on who our protagonist and antagonist is (making the contrast so stark that I am going to complain about it, eventually).

Ostensibly, Collateral is about our protagonist, Max Schroder (Jamie Foxx). Max is a cab driver, but not your ordinary cab driver. In fact, Michael Mann wants you to be so certain of this that we spent 14 of the first 15 minutes of the movie basically subjected to a Max soliloquy. Mann keeps his tight focus on Foxx as we learn that he likes a clean cab, he's smarter than most folks, he's shy around women, he's really good at his job, he loves to look at islands to relax, etc... The first 15 minutes of the movie are so intensely focused that you know Max better than you know your own family members by the time it's done. I found myself screaming internally.. "Why are you doing this!". I guess my complaints are leaking into the summary portion, I can't help myself.

Alright, the ying to Max's yang is Vincent (Tom Cruise). Once Vincent actually gets in Max's cab (AKA, what the real start of the movie begins), we learn pretty quickly that Vincent is a hitman, in town for 1 night to complete 5 jobs. Max pretty quickly becomes his kidnap victim and unwilling partner in the crimes. Hijinks and hilarity ensue, as cab drivin', but smart Max tries to fight Vincent, then rationalize with Vincent, and a few attempted escapes from Vincent, but nothing seems to work out for poor old Max.

So, there's our setup. Collateral could be described as a grown up "buddy movie" in that we've got two guys smashed together in a situation, dealing with each others idiosyncrasies. And we've got patented Michael Mann camerawork and action scenes sprinkled in.

It should be a great match. Frankly, being a much tighter, more focused idea than Mann's own 2006 Miami Vice movie, but it ends up being far, far worse. Collateral no where near achieve the success that it sets up for itself.

Thus, I feel like I've met my general review duties, and I get to whine about what bugged me about Collateral. I honestly spent last night poking around the internet, looking for a place to have an intelligent discussion about the film. I really have questions I think there are answers to, but, after a while I realized I was on the Internet, so the only results I found were for Viagra pills and internet porn, so I gave up. (Serious question, is there a good place on the internet to discuss films? The best I can come up with is the IMDB "message board" system but it's a joke. You can't even view all the posts in line, you have to click on each one, one at a time. Maddening!)

I'm going to call these complaints, but really I consider them more of question marks. I think the approach and/or the execution was flawed, and sometimes I'm not even really sure what the filmmakers were intending. Hence, I ask the reader for their input.. (I know, you're probably shocked at a reviewer complaining about something. I'll give you a moment to collect your thoughts before you continue on.)

Complaint #1 - Of the first 15 minutes, we spend ~30 seconds establishing hitman Vincent (Cruise) (we see him at an airport, he bumps into Jason Statham of all people, they do a bump and switch, and that's it) and then the next 14 minutes introducing cabbie Max (Foxx). First, this is wrong on so many levels. News flash to everyone, Vincent is a far more interesting character with far less character development. While it can be argued (maybe even correctly) that what makes Vincent interesting is the question marks in his past, that does not excuse learning a books length worth of information on Vincent. Why the drastic imbalance? Why the need to spend so much time on the Max character?

Mann and writer Beattie are pretty effective setting Max up as a likeable, hardworking guy that's in a tough situation in the first 2-3 minutes Foxx is on the screen. The next 12 minutes of film, really only reinforce what we've already bought: Max is a nice, hardworking guy with a lot more going on underneath the surface. In other words, it practically guarantees you're going to be bored. My buddy I was watching this with actually left the room during what I call "the soliloquy" and I didn't even bother to pause the movie. What was he going to actually miss? Absolutely nothing.

I have 2 theories why this scene plays such a prominent role in the movie, and both are ludicrous and I should be embarrassed to even mention them. But I can't really come up with better reasons... That's all I could come up with. I can't believe Mann and Beattie actually like the flow of the beginning of the movie, so I must look for excuses for why it is this way.

Complaint #2 - What exactly is going on with the Max character? For the life of me, I cannot figure it out. At times, Foxx (who I consider a very good actor) effectively plays Max as a 65 year old, broken down old man. Then at other times, he plays Max as a strong but goofy super smart guy. Really the character is all over the map, and it's not consistent. I can understand if we see Max grow, get emboldened after being in this situation for a while, but that's hardly the case here. Instead, we're all over the map with Max without any rhyme or reason that I can make out.

I even found the physical presence of Max to be inconsistent. He's got basically a senior citizen haircut and glasses (oh god, those glasses) and generally walks half hunched over, but at the same time he's obviously in spectacular shape. Later, we meet his mother and the Max character is basically treated like a 7 year old boy for the period of 1 scene. Completely all over the map.

I'm very curious how writer Beattie described the Max character, and if the script in it's initial form was really as inconsistent in the presentation of the character.

Complaint #3 - Script doesn't feel nearly as polished as Miami Vice, which is saying a lot, since Miami Vice is several orders of magnitude more complex in sets, plot and characterizations than Collateral. This lack of polish comes in several forms, but I'll focus on just one.

The "bad guy tells a cool, but unrelated story, that results in a heavy moment for everyone" scene. We've all seen these scenes before, and for fans of tense situations, it's a great wildcard moment to look forward to in the film. About halfway through the film, Vincent sends Max into a dance club (that's more heavily guarded fortress than dance club) to meet with Vincent's employer, and get information on the last 2 hits Vincent needs to complete. Max is pretending to be Vincent (since Vincent doesn't want his clients knowing his face) and meets with the scary Felix. Felix proceeds to tell a story, about Christmas in Mexico. I save you the intricate details, what's important here is the fable falls flat.

All the necessary check boxes are checked, Felix tell his story slowly, in haunting detail (the more detailed these non sequitur stories are, generally the more the tension is raised) but it simply doesn't come together. I imagine this is the sort of scene that Quentin Tarantino would work over in his hear for years (literally) and it feels like Mann and Beattie stopped at their second draft and said "good enough". Watching this scene reminded me of my discussion with @JackassTom during our 9th podcast, where we wondered aloud how long Tarantino refined his opening scene in Inglorious Basterds. Felix's speech gives you the exact opposite impression, instead of a moment of relief "wow, that was tense", instead of this intense "pop" (like a balloon popping) we get the equivalent of a whoopie cushion - a lot of noise and bluster, but no real satisfaction what-so-ever.

Complaint #4 - Mann's love affair with Chris Cornell. I dislike Chris Cornell, quite a bit. I dislike Chris Cornell in my movies a whole lot more. Unfall in love with Chris Cornell, Mr. Mann. Please.

Complaint #5 - The wolf scene. Arggghh! The damn wolf scene. Set the scene: So, nearing the end of the film, broken up cab driving around download Los Angeles. Vincent and max are arguing, both talking about their pasts, and what led them to this point. A very heated and heavy exchange between the two of them. Max stops at a red light, the soundtrack goes down, a lone wolf, runs across the road in a deserted street. Quiet moment for both characters. Blast Chris "Angel Voice" Cornell loud! I can see Michael Mann thinking "you're going to be moved, whether you like it or not!". Half of this complaint leaks over into Complaint #4 (my hatred for Chris Cornell) but really, the "wolf quiet moment" scene is pretty amateurish. I guess we're supposed to pause for a moment and reflect, who is the hunter and hunted? Can Max turn the tables here? Or whatever Mann is trying to make us pause to think about. The whole scene is so crummy I end up just tuning it out, and promising myself I will complain publicly someday about this.

That day my friends, that day has arrived. Collateral is great in many ways, but it's just inferior to every other film that Mann has done. It's a real shame too, since I suspect it may well be the last/only teaming of Mann with Cruise (though obviously was impressed enough to cast Foxx in Miami Vice, which he made after Collateral, and rightly so).

I do hope someone reads this, and comments on my questions. I'd love an intelligent debate on this (even though I wrote the review like a 12 year old rushing to finish a book report). For now, while it's a good movie, I can't really recommend Collateral to anyone. It's like trying to date Michael Bacon to be closer to Kevin Bacon. You just can't replace the real thing. Just in case you're studying for SATs, a sample word problem: Michael Bacon is to Kevin Bacon, like Collateral is to Heat.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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