Collateral Review

The Film

By the time you read this, we’ll know if Jamie Foxx has managed to snag a Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Globes for his performance in Collateral. He’s set a record by being nominated in three acting categories this year, along with his performance here he’s up for Best Actor for Ray – the biopic of Ray Charles – and Best Actor in a TV Mini Series for Redemption. That’s a lot of accolades for one year, but whether he wins for this movie or not one thing is very clear, it isn’t a nomination he deserved.

Foxx play’s Max, he’s a cab driver on the streets of LA who takes an unusual pride in his work. He keeps his cab pristine and his knowledge of the streets goes further than what you’ll find in the A-Z, he knows every variation in traffic, and unlike many cabbies he’ll use that knowledge to make sure you don’t get caught in traffic, rather than running up a fare. Why take such good care of his punters? Because every last one of them could be a client for his new business, Island Limos. Max is only working as a cabbie for long enough to save the money he needs to get his limo service off the ground, and then he’ll be offering his luxury services to a higher class of clientele, he plans to offer a ride so smooth and so high class you won’t want to get out of the car when you get to your destination. Tonight though he is about to pick up a fare that might put a wrinkle or two in his master plan.

That fare is Vincent (Tom Cruise), an unremarkable man to look at, but he’s got a few things about him that are certainly unusual. Vincent is a hit man, and rather than driving unfamiliar streets he likes to employ the services of a man with local knowledge. Best of all with a simple cover story he can have a partner in crime that is completely unwitting. No need for a partner to split the fee with, or having to trust not to turn him in. It would be the perfect plan if his first hit of the night hadn’t gone slightly wrong, leaving the mark laying face down on Max’s cab. Now Max is forced to drive Vincent to four more hits, with a body in his trunk and a gun in his back. Island Limos is looking like a dream Max may never live to see.

Directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Manhunter) who has long been obsessed with the blurred line between really good criminals and really good cops, puts his protagonists in far closer proximity than he has before. The cat and mouse games of DeNiro and Pacino in Heat take on a whole new twist when the two leads spend almost the entire film together, and the whole film is fantastically gripping. Max is more than a little scared of Vincent, making his attempts at escape less than fantastic, he’s like a deer in the headlights, too frightened to do anything in Vincent’s presence. And of course Vincent is too clever to leave Max alone and able to run. As the night goes on the two get closer, each becoming more human to the other, and their common traits become apparent – at least to us – their meticulous natures giving them a strange common ground in their work, even if they manage to occupy completely opposite ends of the moral spectrum.

Mann’s direction is fantastic, seamlessly blending film and hi-definition digital video to provide a stunning looking film. The film certainly takes its time to go anywhere, but it has an unrelenting feeling, so even while it’s moving slowly you always know that it has an agenda, not a frame feels wasted. Even when the action ramps up it often doesn’t last long, the realistic feel of the movie being paramount in Mann’s mind, gunfights last seconds not minutes - in fact in one exchange Cruise unleashes 5 rounds in just 1.3 seconds, in a stunning display of Vincent’s cold, unwavering professionalism. Mann has also gathered an impressive supporting cast, with Jason Statham, Jada Pinket-Smith, Peter Berg and Mark Ruffalo all appearing, often only to disappear again. It’s a cunning play by Mann, putting roles that could have easily been played by far less famous faces in the hands of well known actors not only means that the overall level of acting quality is higher, but you’re never sure if the people you’ve seen will be making another appearance. All too often a moviemakers hand can be tipped by placing a star in what was meant to appear to be an unimportant role.

So why, after all that, did Jamie Foxx not deserve to be nominated? Quite simply because this is his film, not only does he have more screen time than Cruise, but he puts in a better performance, Whilst last years Academy Awards saw Ken Watanabe only find a Supporting Actor nomination for his role in The Last Samurai, despite dominating every scene he shared with Cruise, although it felt harsh, it was understandable, his role was the smaller. But here Foxx stars, and his star shines, true it takes both of them to make this movie, but a clearer two-hander you’ll be hard pushed to find. It’s the kind of film the term co-star was coined for. Two main roles, two fine acting jobs – although Foxx impresses more – and yet the star power of Cruise leaves Foxx short-changed. That said, his other nominations must be some consolation, and there’s no doubt this film alone will have given Foxx the best opportunities of his career. It’s certainly an achievement, he shares the screen with one of the biggest stars in the world, but walks away the man everyone is talking about.

Collateral is a fantastic film, easily one of the best of 2004, and suffering only from an air of predictability that makes the ending more an inevitable relief from the tension than a surprise, with the whole final act being far more by the book than what has preceded it. Nevertheless it is as gripping a two hours as you’ll have spent all year, and a extraordinary success for everyone involved, making Collateral the first DVD of 2005 your collection can’t do without.

The Picture

The image – presented in anamorphic 2.40:1 – is stunning. With the Hi-Def Digital Video allowing Mann to capture some amazing detail in low light conditions, Collateral is one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve seen in quite some time, even though its story happens largely in the dark. Mann raves on the commentary about the depth of field Hi-Def is capable of capturing, and it really makes a difference to the composition, and thankfully the transfer never has a problem capturing that, I can only imagine how good a film like this is going to look when Hi-Def DVD comes onto the market, if this is the low resolution version.

The Sound

The disc has, not unusually, gained some multilingual support for the R2 release, but that means it has lost the DTS 5.1 track that the R1 was supplied with. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is present still impresses, largely driven by it’s music, which is an area Mann has paid meticulous attention to (something he makes very clear in his commentary) but he also knows just when to drop the music completely and let the dialogue or action stand on its own, often making a larger impact with silence than music ever could.

The Extras

Commentary from Director Michael Mann

Matching the pace of his film, Mann takes his time with this track, but never has a problem holding your attention. Putting many commentators to shame – and quite probably filmmakers as well – Mann goes into an incredible amount of detail about the film, his preparations were staggering, and the level of back-story he imagined for the characters is almost worrying, especially considering he didn’t even write the script. The one area where the commentary leaves you wanting is in the technical details of Hi-Def, although he points out where he used it, and the benefits using it afforded him, every time he mentions a benefit of the new technology I was wanting to know exactly how it achieves it. Possibly my want for the technical details of the new technology outstrips most people’s, but considering how impressed he is with it I was disappointed to have to jump online to find out more.

City of Night: The Making of Collateral

It’s well worth setting some time aside to sit down with this behind the scenes look, running for 40 minutes it leaves you wishing it were longer, as we get to further examine Mann’s incredibly in-depth process. Cruise mentions that much of the work he would do as an actor had already been done by Mann before he got on board, and all the actors are in awe of his process. It seems another benefit – for Mann at least – of shooting largely on Hi-Def is that you can have an hour-long tape in place of a ten minute spool of film. That allows Mann to hold the actors ‘in the zone’ and shoot many more takes without a break than was previously possible. There are many interesting technical details available, the most intriguing being the way the interior of the cab was lit – after lining it with a ‘velcro-accepting’ fabric, sheets of the material used to backlight cellphones could be stuck to any surface in the cab. An ingenious solution, again only possible because of Hi-Def video’s ability to capture so much detail in low light environments.

Special Delivery

Vincent needed to be anonymous, as he moves through crowds preparing to kill it’s vital people don’t remember his face. As a test of Cruise’s ability to blend in Mann dressed him up as a delivery man and had him spend a day facing the public delivering packages. Amazingly he wasn’t recognised, and it’s funny to see him sitting down in his uniform and sunglasses having a cup of coffee and a conversation, without being mugged by screaming fans. But then you have to wonder if the old guy he’s talking to would have recognised him if he’d been walking around wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with the Mission: Impossible poster.

Deleted Scene with Commentary from Michael Mann

A single scene showing Vincent losing any surveillance he may have picked up after the shoot out at Fever, it seems Mann felt that although it would be what Vincent would have done in the situation, it slowed the film down and lost the intensity needed for Vincent and Max’s verbal confrontation.

Shooting on Location

Mann shot a visually impressive scene in an office interior, a cat and mouse game between Vincent and his mark, after the lights have gone out. Mann explains here how they went about shooting in the dark, and just why he wanted to have a scene where the only visible light source was the distant L.A. skyline.

Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx Rehearse

This is a nicely presented selection if rehearsal footage, from two different sessions, cut together with the final film footage. It’s a nice demonstration of how rehearsal can improve the performances, and again shows how much Mann appreciates the details, as even Richard T. Jones – who appears in just one scene – was present to rehearse.

Visual Effects: High Speed Action on the MTA Train

Here Mann shows us footage of the film’s finale, with before and after green screen shots. The train sequence was shot with a green screen background because Mann – and this will surprise you – had very particular ideas about what should be visible out of the train windows in every shot, he even had the exact parking structure picked out.

The disc also carries cast and filmmakers notes and production notes. All special features are subtitled in English French and German.


The film is one of last year’s highlights, and with a bit of luck marks the start of a new direction for Cruise, as well as becoming a launching pad for Foxx (if you haven’t heard yet, he lost out at the Globes for this, but did win for Ray, and picked up BAFTA nominations for them both 12 hours later.) The disc only appears to have lost its DTS track as it crossed the Atlantic, picking up some multilingual support in its stead, but having heard that DTS track I’d say it isn’t important, as it’s only sensitive ears that will be able to notice the difference.

9 out of 10
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out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:31:49

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