After my communication experiments, last night, I went to see Collateral, the latest movie from Michael Mann, the director behind Heat, one of my favourite films. It marks Mann’s return to Los Angeles, the city that played a leading role in Heat and does so here, too. It also features a performance from Tom Cruise that will appeal to those, like me, who are not particular fans of his.
He plays Vincent, a hitman with a list of targets in LA, who rents a cab for the night, saying he needs to make some real estate deals. Things do not go to plan, however: he botches the first job, letting the victim fall three stories on to the cab, damaging it, forcing him to take Max (Jamie Foxx), the driver, hostage to keep him quiet. He underestimates Max, however, even ironically encouraging him to take charge of the situation and his life, a strategy that backfires in a most spectacular fashion. You get the impression that he’d spoken this way before, but this time Max was listening and paying attention.
The direction is inspiring, the most impressive set piece being a shootout in a nightclub, in which we see Vincent’s in his element, and it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his character is drawn in shades of grey, down to the steely hair and the expensive suit that eventually comes apart at the seams. Max, meanwhile, has had enough, and flips things over in no uncertain terms.
Mann doesn’t go in search of LA, merely lets it show itself to the camera, and finds it through many unusual camera angles and textures; close-ups, top-down aerial shots, monochromatic scenes with the downtown area a background rainbow blur. It’s all shot on digital cameras with much use of “practical” light from fluorescents and sodium street lights, a palette of colour I’m not used to seeing on the big screen, but one I recognise in spirit from the times I’ve spent in various cities around the world, up way past my bedtime.