August 18, 2004

Collateral

When I see two films within a short period of time, I can’t help but compare them. Recently, I saw The Bourne Supremacy and thought it was an OK film, but not much worthy of writing about. The critics seemed to really like it. As an action film it was passable. And though the camera work was distracting during action scenes, there were decent car chases. But I didn’t find it especially memorable.

Last night, I saw Collateral with Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise. Here is a better film, and I can’t help but compare. In Bourne Supremacy you never get the feeling that Jason Bourne is in any particular danger. For one thing, the darn movie proclaims his supremacy for chrissakes. And he’s basically a Superman. It’s fun to watch him put the pedal to the metal and go after the baddie, but there isn’t much complexity to it. Those who call Bourne a thinking man’s James Bond have probably allowed a bit of rust to accumulate on their thinker.

I’m no genius, but I know a decent character interplay when I see it. What’s more, I can feel it. And that’s what you get from Michael Mann in Collateral. Cruise is a cold-blooded sociopathic hit man. Foxx is a guy in a cab who is a decent fellow but working below his potential. When they collide, the result is not predictable. Yes it’s got its movie moments. But, unlike Bourne, this movie is a question that holds my interest. Unlike Bourne, Foxx is extremely vulnerable. Unlike Bourne, the outcome is not completely clear.

In The Bourne Supremacy, the shocking surprises are nearly all used up at the beginning of the film. In Collateral you’ve got a shocking situation that lasts through the film.

Comparing two films isn’t much of a review, especially if you haven’t seen the other film. So here’s the lowdown. In Collateral, Foxx’s cabbie picks up a fare he’d rather not have. After that he must wrestle with a number of questions, look within himself for the strength to get through the night, and come to terms with what matters to him.

There was a clear homage to one of my favorite movies, Rear Window during the final reel. If Mann is thinking of Hitchcock, it comes through in this film. Earlier in the film, Foxx has a conversation with Jada Pinkett Smith. It’s casual and enjoyable. Soon he has nearly the same conversation with Cruise, only this time it’s uncomfortable. He’s being questioned, and it’s an interview, though Foxx doesn’t know it. Foxx’s cab driver is a good reader of people, but the source of his emotional discomfort is not his passenger. His passenger has merely precipitated it.

Here’s a bit of character “arithmetic” to think about. If your character doesn’t have any room to grow, your character is expendable and just might find himself not surviving the film. If your character has room to grow, that’s not always a guarantee of survival. You may just stick around long enough to finally learn that important lesson and then kick the bucket dramatically while you are still awash with the epiphany. The moral? Films are dangerous places for characters.

Posted by James at August 18, 2004 1:37 AM
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