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Spotlight on: Michael Mann's Collateral

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Cover of Collateral DVD Michael Mann's Collateral

Hollywood needs to stop creating movies with villains that are more interesting than the so-called "good guys" becasue what inevitably happens is the audience -- perhaps without even being completely aware of it -- gets behind the antagonist (in this case, Tom Cruise's Vincent) and roots for his to win in the end.

Of course, since the Rules of Cinema -- still strangely moralistic in these continually darkening times -- will not allow that to happen, it means setting ourselves up for disappointment. Judgment Night was the first film to drive this point home, with the ineffectual Emilio Estevez and Jeremy Piven somehow coming out on top over the ultracool Denis Leary and Erik Shrody (aka Everlast). But that movie was all about the soundtrack anyway, with its prescient teaming of alternative rock and rap groups.

Now Michael Mann has done it again with Collateral. Only this time he's included the necessary protagonist identification in Jamie Foxx's Max the cabbie. After all, what better way to engender sympathy for a character than to have him be potentially lucky in love (especially with the surprisingly lovely Jada Pinkett-Smith).

But don't get me wrong, even though Foxx provides the foundation, it is Cruise who carries Collateral. A lot of people saw this as a stretch (similar to Tom Hanks playing a killer in Road to Perdition), but it's really just Cruise doing what he does best: looking and acting really cool. I have yet to see him do anything to make me think he's reaching really deep; he's too physical an actor for that, merely taking on different mannerisms (and hairstyles) with each new character.

With Michael Mann at the helm, you can expect intensity (see Manhunter, The Insider, Heat), what I didn't expect were the number of surprises that Collateral holds in store. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen, the movie would throw a narrative curve ball, catching me completely off my guard.

This kept me interested when the story would flag (as stories always do when they're trying to get on with the business of actually telling the story) and they are mostly what I remember about Collateral -- except for the lame ending -- making it a more engaging experience than anyone had a right to expect from a Tom Cruise movie.

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