This year’s “Phone Booth”, “Collateral” is exactly what it appears to be – a very simple high concept thriller, no more or less. It rides entirely on its kinetic pacing, solid performances, character interplay, and gritty urban video realism. Those expecting a true ‘film’ along the lines of “Heat” or “The Insider” will be gravely disappointed, those after just an intense thrill ride however will be left quite satiated.
Even at 120 minutes, the film never slows down and feels about the right length (ok maybe a few minutes too long), most of that is thanks to the performances of the two leads. Cruise, with his not too convincing salt-and-pepper haircut and grey suit, is effectively cold and efficient – not much depth to be sure, but it’s an intense role from the charmer. That quality plays well off Foxx’s convincing emotional gamut run from fear and innocence to a strong assertiveness and deep seated courage to escape his tormentor.
The two’s strong playing off each other is slightly muted by a police investigation subplot involving an oddly wigged Mark Ruffalo that while passable, never really takes off until it converges with the main plot in one of the film’s best sequences – a slickly filmed action shoot out in a nightclub. Jada Pinkett Smith has a nice little romantic by play element with Foxx even though her eventual reappearance in the story is predictably telegraphed right from the start.
Shooting in digital video on the dimly lit streets of LA, it may get all the directions and layout of the city screwed up but it gives the town the dark urban noir wasteland feel that much of the city has. This conveyance of the sheer emptiness of both the landscape and soul that’s so unique to this metropolis adds a whole other character to the tale. Effective cameos from the likes of Javier Bardem and Jason Statham are eye catching but never drag you out of the picture.
There’s a few problems though aside from lack of depth, most noticeably the more Hollywood turns of the last half hour and the various conversations in need of a bit of tweaking or editing. The tension is well played, especially a great sequence in a blacked out office building, and the music though unremarkable does add to the film’s feel. It’s a solid serviceable thriller, one that works throughout watching it but not one that stands particularly out from the bunch – for a Mann flick it feels more like a “in between big features experiment” style movie. Still, the experiment is a success.