Is there a better director out there for manly action and neo thrills than Michael Mann? From Thief to Manhunter, Heat to Miami Vice, Mann makes films that are big and bold and often downright beautiful. His protagonists are wild men, dogged in their missions, fuelled by demons and a devotion to their jobs, while his films are ones that can stand up to repeated viewings. Last night, inspired by the latest cast additions to Mann's upcoming Dillinger project, I felt in need of a Mann fix, and, running my fingers along my DVD shelves, past Ali, Manhunter, and Miami Vice, they came to rest on Collateral, a film I'd seen at the cinema and on DVD, and which, even on third viewing, I couldn't find fault with. Tom Cruise's hitman, in his grey suit and hair, is a distant cousin to DeNiro's character in Heat. Both are hardened criminals with a code they live and will eventually die by. The precision, ruthlessness and efficiency with which Cruise's Vincent dispatches his victims (two in the chest, one in the head) is reflected, too, in Mann's own crisp visual style. Beginning with a brief segment in Ali, Mann has taken to the digital world view, shooting both Collateral and Miami Vice predominently with the Panavision Genesis camera, but, unlike David Fincher's Zodiac which actually looks as if it could have been shot on film (and certain sequences were), Mann has embraced the high definition aesthetic, an approach that lends Collateral much of its ferocious urgency and intensity, its intoxicating power and its heightened realism.
Shot 99.9% at night on the (predominently empty) streets of LA by Mann's twin DPs, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, Collateral presents an impression of this much-filmed city (location wise, angle wise, colour wise) rarely seen. And while much of the film plays out in the confines of the cab driven by Jamie Foxx's Max, a man who takes pride in his world (witness his impeccably clean cab and the pride he takes in knowing how long a particular journey will take), the dialogue scenes between Cruise and Foxx crackle and spark as much as his action. (And the shootout here at the Fever club is as good as the one outside the bank in Heat or the trailer park sequence in Miami Vice.) Cruise and Foxx both do exemplary work, as do Jada Pinkett, Mark Ruffalo and an uncredited Javier Bardem. For some reason, Collateral wasn't celebrated in the same way as 1995's Heat, but this is a leaner, meaner, more focused, and, in many ways, better movie.