Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 28, 2004 6:01 pm 
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Cool and hot

Collateral is a very cool movie. In it the director, Michael Mann, steps back from his engagé stance in The Insider and Ali and returns to crime. A killer enters a taxi and commandeers it for an evening of hits. Well, that’s taking a chance, isn’t it? But did anybody say a murderer was logical or made no mistakes? Collateral is drenched in neo-noir spirit even as it partakes headily of the dangerous energy of the hostage and crime spree genres in which a few nervous hours are encompassed. An innocent man, the cab driver, a little dreamy, deluding himself with a photo of a tropical isle he keeps for fantasy escaping tacked to his dash, and with the idea that any day now he’ll open his own deluxe limo service, is trapped by a dangerous man. The crimes unfold with the usual unexpected violence, and as they pile up, things go more and more wrong. Soon the law is on the chase, but only one underdog cop (Fanning, Mark Ruffalo) has a clue what’s really afoot.

Right from the start, this is a wonderful looking movie and it’s astonishing to know that it’s actually digital video, no doubt the most gorgeous digital video ever so far made (apparently through some clever post-shoot re-formating tricks). Noir means black and this is all at night. But it’s an LA night and its “noir” is in color. The framing of shots causes continual sighs of pleasure without being pretty-pretty or romantic or obvious. It’s a terrific balancing act, really, and the result is the most aesthetically pleasing film of violence since the Kill Bills.

The images are so lovely you’re dumbstruck at the fact that they’re also so completely free of cliché. The cast is excellent and the film moves with such ease and conviction that from the first couple of minutes you know you’re in the hands of a master. Walter Chaw of Film Freak Central, as excited as I was,* mixed his metaphors for a stunning little eulogy: he wrote that Collateral places Mann in “the upper echelon of cinematic directors (Stanley Kubrick, for example) who, when they're on, produce tapestries so pure that you feel as though if you tapped them they'd ring like crystal.” Indeed. We’re in the sweet spot. It’s almost as if Mann is sighing with relief to be back in the territory he commands with ease, and even as the tension builds there’s the relaxed good feeling of respecting the man in charge.

The movie replaces the sad poetry and in depth portraiture of Thief with the nihilistic beat of Tom Cruise’s dialogue. His cruel jabs at the driver go to the heart of classic crime drama while adding an air of 21st century LA anomie. In place of the hardboiled patter of a Bogart character Cruise teases and goads his driver with mocking references to Darwin and the I Ching. Vincent (Cruise) is a hollow man, but very bold and strong. He teaches dreamy, nice Max (Jamie Foxx) how to talk back to his abusive, exploitative boss. But Vincent’s just a killer. He has no other identity, other than a past with an abusive father, who he jokingly pretends to have killed.

There is really so little to this movie. But that’s the economy of noir, which used to substitute a few wisecracks for a bio. What we get is very fast, and very suave, and very beautiful.

Not to be missed.

*Manohla Dargis, the LA-based film critic who now graces the pages of the NY Times, appropriately chose to eulogize Collateral for her maiden Times review.

©Chris Knipp 2004

Last edited by cknipp on Sat Oct 23, 2004 11:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

 Post subject: Bloody brilliant review
PostPosted: Mon Aug 30, 2004 10:05 am 

Joined: Wed Nov 26, 2003 12:35 pm
Posts: 7
Your talk of masters, tapping crystal, digital imagery and noir have piqued my interest in seeing this even more.

I'll get to a theatre this week and let you know. I loved Ali, so I think I'll love Collateral.

"I always direct the same film"- Federico Fellini

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