Collateral is a stunning piece of film-making. From the razor-sharp dialogue that says paragraphs in mere words to the against-type performances of its two leads, it is a well-thought-out claustrophobic masterpiece. Shot entirely at night in low light, Michael Mann’s camera invades the locked box of a taxicab where a driver who has spent years dreaming of starting a limo company picks up a fare and agrees to drive him around for the night, unaware the man is an assassin sent to take out a series of witnesses to throw a forthcoming criminal trial.
Although this is a claustrophobic tale of two men inside a car, Mann sometimes allows the viewer to step away and watch from overhead, as if we are a dark, hovering angel of death that floats above Los Angeles and follows the car along the roads. The tension rises palpably as the taxi loops the city, stopping off at high and low places, as the relationship between the driver and the killer develops.
Tom Cruise plays the assassin with grey-haired steel resolve. He is a wolf, wired to hunt and cold in his gaze, and this is possibly his finest performance, though equally one of his most understated. Jamie Foxx is the neurotic taxi driver living in a fantasy world who, throughout the film, slowly wakes up to the harsh reality around him, forcing him to act instead of letting the road take him in its current. The counter-play between the two is exceptional and goes against the usual Mann formula of hero and villain slowly spiralling into each other, only to meet at the very end, as here they are together throughout, though still spiralling and in different directions.
The writing, the direction, the acting, and the practical action effects are all outstanding. The supporting cast, which includes Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, and Peter Berg, give a living texture to the city, and Javier Bardem practically steals the film in his brief appearance. Collateral is a gripping and brilliant thriller.