Michael Mann has managed to chronicle masculinity in the cinema for over 20 years now. In Collateral he brings his unique eye to Los Angeles’ nightlife in the story of Jamie Foxx’s hardworking cab driver, Max, who picks up the fare of a lifetime. The Cruiser plays Vincent, a sociopath and contract killer. It’s an excellent mannered performance from the smiling Scientologist, suiting his innate arrogance and making for a believably remorseless killer. There are shades of Mann’s excellent Heat in many parts of this and that is no bad thing but to be honest, the story, performances and script were all good but they played second fiddle to something else.
What really shines in Collateral is the city itself. A little bit of reading around reveals that Mann had become enamoured of the growing potential of digital video prior to this shoot. As a result he found that the digital camera’s were able to pick up a lot more detail than traditional film in the natural ambient light that LA is bathed in. The result is a film that looks completely unlike any other mainstream Hollywood release. Mann’s LA is back alleys empty commercial buildings and parking lots all bathed in phosphor and neon, cold electric lights, glinting metallics and pools of darkness. The city sleepily glows and hums a picture of sparse urban decay. In short, it looks incredible.
There’s a lot of noise at the moment about how digital film-making is encroaching on film and whether it is signalling the death of celluloid. I certainly hope that isn’t the case but I think digital recording represents an addition to the growing toolkit available for cinema and as such it should be greeted with wary open arms. There will be mistakes made in the early stages but Collateral represents an excellent step in this respect.
In case you fancy a read about the technicalities of filming Collateral then have a quick read of this archive article from The American Cinematographer. I warn you though, it’s a bit camera technical.