No crime film in years boasts a cooler vibe than Michael Mann’s dazzling Collateral, a head-spinning ride with the devil through a Los Angeles night that gleams with danger. Mann hits a new peak, orchestrating action, atmosphere and bruising humor with a poet’s eye for urban darkness. Reporting for duty as a stone-cold contract killer is Tom Cruise, who gives a dynamite performance by undercutting his heroic image even more than he did in Interview With the Vampire and Magnolia. As Vincent, hired by a narco trafficking cartel to off five trial witnesses in the ten hours between dusk and dawn, Cruise freezes all warmth out of his killer smile. With steel gray in his hair and a silver suit that fits him tighter than snakeskin, Cruise is like a cobra poised to spring. And when he does — just after he and a jazz trumpeter (a remarkable Barry Shabaka Henley) discuss what makes Miles Davis cool — the effect is electrifying. Cruise takes his game to a whole new level.atching him step for step is Jamie Foxx as Max, the cabdriver Vincent forces into chauffeuring him on his murder spree. If all you know of Foxx is from TV sitcoms and movie drool (Breakin’ All the Rules), you’re in for a shock. This is Foxx’s year (his upcoming turn as Ray Charles in Ray takes him to Oscar heights), with the revelations ting here as Max. Foxx fires up the screen with the power and subtlety of a born . And his teamwork with Cruise is a thing of beauty. p>ann and Aussie screenwriter Stuart Beattie build character out of small, telling details. Watch Max — who’s been hacking for twelve years while delaying his dream of owning a limo service — with his first customer of the night. She’s Annie Farrell (a fine, feisty Jada Pinkett Smith), a federal attorney who feels an unarticulated connection with blue-collar Max; she gives him her card. And watch Vince size up Max, especially his ability to know exactly how long it takes to get from one place to another in the city of damaged angels. Max bites for Vince’s offer of $600 to be his errand boy. But when the first body falls, splat, from a window onto Max’s cab, the driver wants out. It’s too late. Max has a corpse in his trunk and a gun to his head.p>ann stages action like nobody’s business — there’s a nightclub shootout that stands with his most thrilling work. But it’s the moral perspective in Mann films (Thief, Heat, The Insider) that brings depth and resonance. The cops (Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg) and the feds (led by Bruce McGill) peg Vince as a badass sociopath. Vince thinks he’s just “taking out the garbage.” Max’s hospitalized mother (the great Irma P. Hall) sees her son as a passive failure. Max thinks he’s just a victim of bad timing. In the film’s key scene — far more effective than the subway-chase climax — Max is forced to pretend he’s Vince to a drug lord, vividly played by Javier Bardem. Scared shitless, at first, Max ts to act like a tough guy and is exhilarated by his success.
his clash of light and shadow is made even more gripping by Mann’s inspired decision to have cinematographers Paul Cameron and Dion Beebe shoot eighty percent of the film on high-definition digital video. The camerawork is groundbreaking, able to penetrate the murkiest depths. Nighttime in L.A., complete with three coyotes crossing in front of Max’s cab in mockery of the city’s thin hold on civilization, becomes Mann’s visionary peek into hell. Like Cruise and Foxx, Collateral wants to get under your skin. Does it ever.