Most matinee idols play the "good guy." They wear the white hat, end up with the girl and ride off into the sunset. But if you ask a matinee idol what role he wants to play, he'll say, "The bad guy."
Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in "Collateral." (DreamWorks)
Tom Cruise is a matinee idol, and he gets that wish in "Collateral." Cruise plays Vincent, a professional hit man—and bad guy.
Movies need a good guy, too, and here it's played by Jamie Foxx. His Max is a cab driver in Los Angeles.
"Collateral" tells the story of Vincent and Max's night ride in Los Angeles. Vincent hops into Max's cab, says he's going to be in Los Angeles for just that night and that he needs a driver. He offers Max $600, plus another $100 if Max gets him to the airport before 6 a.m.
As the cab winds through the sprawl of Los Angeles, we find that this is not another action movie; it's a character study of two men. With each professional "hit," Vincent reveals more of himself. With each passing mile, Max learns more about himself.
Michael Mann directed "Collateral," and it marks a return to the kind of stories he does best. "Collateral" feels like Mann's movie "Heat." From the stubble beard to the gray suit, Cruise looks and sounds like Robert DeNiro's Neil McCauley from that 1995 movie. But "Collateral" is far from a copy of the previous film.
What Mann does is give us a deeply layered story. Encounters in the movie are important interactions that move the story forward. Mann adds details that make for a haunting canvas. Like Rembrandt, who painted in dark colors, Mann paints in grays and blacks. Mann's dark canvas reveals richness in a Los Angeles night—and how a cab fare can affect so many lives.
But the visuals alone do not make "Collateral" a great movie. Screenwriter Stuart Beattie's dialogue drives the movie as much as the visuals. Time spent in the cab, going from place to place, allows us to see these two men reveal more about themselves; we thus care about the story.
Vincent is a well-read sociopath who shows what seems to be a compassionate side. When he speaks, one cannot help but listen. Vincent proves that evil is not ugly; it can be nicely dressed and well educated.
Max, on the other hand, is working hard and trying to make something of himself. He is concerned about the people he serves and is the movie's moral center.
Both Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx give stellar performances. "Collateral" still displays some of the stereotypical "Tom Cruise" story elements, but Cruise shines because of a good director. Jamie Foxx delivers on the dramatic promise he showed in Mann's "Ali," and is surely a fine dramatic actor. Look for him to be a breakout dramatic star in his next film, "Ray," about Ray Charles.
"Collateral" is not a cab ride for the faint of heart. It has murders, scenes in a morgue and rough language. But if film noir is your cup of tea, take the ride. It's worth the fare.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language. Reviewer's Note: Strong, adult language and scenes of murder and graphic violence.
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Stuart Beattie
Cast: Vincent: Tom Cruise; Max: Jamie Foxx; Felix: Javier Bardem; Annie: Jada Pinkett Smith; Paco: Emilio Rivera; Daniel: Barry Shabaka Henley; Max's mother: Irma P. Hall.
The movie's official Web site is here.