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Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith and Mark Ruffalo
Director: Michael Mann
Rated: MA15+

IN Collateral, Max (Jamie Foxx) drives a cab, a day-dreaming everyman, minding his own business.

Vincent (Tom Cruise) is an assassin, a tightly wound, contract killer who just happens to hail Max’s cab.

From there, Michael Mann evolves what might have been just another genre crime drama into a tense and complex, and wonderfully entertaining, film.

Like many a Hollywood auteur, Mann is enormously talented but notoriously difficult (‘auteur’ is code for ‘crazy person’).

But, at least since Heat, Mann has focused his meticulous gaze on the authenticity of his cops and robbers, his boxers and tobacco executives too. He wants it to be real.

And while the premise of Collateral may strain credulity (sure, it could happen), Cruise and Foxx set out on a very real-feeling night in Los Angeles.

As such, Collateral plays out as a suspenseful and dense character study. It is not at all the usual Hollywood action film farce.

Most of the film is spent with Foxx and Cruise as they move through a multi-ethnic Los Angeles – the ‘real’ Los Angeles, the one not often depicted on screen. And Foxx gracefully holds his own against a mega star working at the top of his craft.

Playing against type, Cruise is sensational as the controlled, if somewhat deranged, killer hired to eliminate a list of potential witnesses against a South American drug cartel.

Given Cruise so often relies on little more than great hair and clever smirks, it is no small surprise his prowess as a physical actor is much underrated.

But Cruise is successful as the nihilist killer, Vincent, because his manners and mannerisms, and most of all his athleticism, convey his taut and twitchy character with a complexity that goes beyond the scripted dialogue.

Mark Ruffalo also turns in a subtle, compelling performance as a narcotics cop trying to make sense of Cruise’s calculated crime spree.

This is a dark, gritty and sometimes violent film, but well worth seeing if dark grit and violence won’t bother you too much.

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