The one feature film Michael Mann has directed without writing is Collateral (2004), and perhaps non-coincidentally it at once is very much in his style, yet contains a number of qualities that are foreign to Mann’s oeuvre.
For starters, there is the character of Annie (Jada Pinkett-Smith), perhaps the most fleshed out female character to date in Mann’s work – even if only over the course of a couple of scenes. The film begins with her and Max (Jamie Foxx) speaking in the taxi driver’s cab as he takes her to work. Their dialogue is fluid, crisp and, in a way, speaks volumes about their characters in just a few minutes. The dialogue they’re speaking, written by Stuart Beattie, would feel more at home in a stage play than a Hollywood thriller.
This speaks to the compact nature of the film. Although it is set all over Los Angeles, the timeline is compressed to one evening and the setting is largely the inside of one particular taxi. The significant dialogue is between the two characters of Max and Vincent (Tom Cruise), the hitman who has commissioned him as a chauffeur for the evening. Their power struggle will play out largely in dialogue in this one location as the night drags on. Indeed, one could almost imagine Roman Polanski being as likely to make this film – though it would look nothing like it does – as Michael Mann.
The film, shot on HDCAM and Super 35mm film, has the gritty, rough-and-tumble feel at times of a 70s thriller like The French Connection, yet with the cold digital sheen of much of Mann’s latest work. The use of music recalls Mann’s innovations on the TV series Miami Vice in the 1980s.
The finale feels somewhat out of place. Although a violent chase scene and confrontation in a Hollywood action/thriller is inevitable these days, this film is so literate and stylish that it seems almost perfunctory. Furthermore, Tom Cruise’s Vincent becomes like a horror film villain – superhuman and seemingly all but unstoppable.
Upon reflection, the only thing that really bugs me is that the police don’t at least show up. While killing Jamie Foxx would’ve been pointless had they shown up (and unlikely since Annie would’ve probably sang his praises and gotten him off the hook), they are still a dropped plotpoint given the elaborate lengths to which Vincent’s gone to either frame him or turn him into an apprentice – however one chooses to look at it.