Lost in LA: Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)

collateral

“Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, in a speck on one in a blink. That’s us, lost in space. The cop, you, me… Who notices?”

Coming from a sociopathic killer trying to justify his ability to murder, these words are hardly a convincing sentiment. For affable, aimless cab driver Max, however, they’re highly appropriate. Ever since Vincent (a hired assassin) fatefully climbed into his cab earlier in the evening, Max has been alone. His efforts to seek help or save lives are punished in one way or another, if they’re noticed at all. It’s Vincent who sees him best, and with painful clarity at that. Amidst the lights of Los Angeles, which are so impersonal that they may as well be distant as the stars (themselves hidden in the city’s murk), Max’s survival depends entirely upon his own actions-and the fact that Vincent needs to be noticed too.

Collateral does several things extremely well. It takes place on only one night, encompassing all of its actions and character development within a few hours. It traverses Los Angeles, showing its culture, its landscapes, and its people. Frequent aerial shots and the use of digital video (more effective than film in low light) are just a couple of the elements that enhance its powerful sense of place (which in turn heightens the psychological drama).

Most notably, the many scenes that occur in Max’s cab don’t have the constrained feeling that can come from setting long conversations within a single, confined space. These scenes feel lively and natural, not forced. This comes down to Stuart Beattie’s script, Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise’s acting, and the seamless matching of the interiors with the exteriors that keeps the cab a part of Los Angeles at all times. Another film could easily have shown Max and Vincent’s relationship without subtlety, but here the meaning remains clear without being amateurishly blatant.

And that moment with the coyote, a mirror of Vincent that embodies uninhibited predatory instincts as well as a world that does not favour the human race, and will outlast it? Very nice.

Collateral may not be able to stand against Heat, Michael Mann’s true LA crime epic, but not many films can. As a story about two men on one night in Los Angeles, it is admirable.

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