Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Review: Collateral

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

So, last night I met up with P-Doug and G and we went to see the movie Collateral. Tueday nights are $4.25 nights, as I've probably indictated elsewhere, so it's a good cheap evening. In the food court, I got chicken curry over rice, a side salad, and a can of Diet Coke for about six bucks. So all-told, it was about a ten-dollar evening—cheaper than the movie alone, most places. But anyway, you're here to read about the flick, no?

Well, first I'm going to subject you to my gripes. We got there good and early, as usual, and chose the seats we wanted. Everything is always fine till the last five minutes when every doughhead who never heard of a "watch" suddenly shows up at once, milling around with three or four of his buds, expecting to find seats that are A) close enough together so they can indulge in one another's farts and BO, B) not so close to the screen they get whiplash whenever anything happens on screen, and C) not in some armpit of the theater where everything on the near side is HUGE and everything on the far side looks like it's in the next county. Naturally, this means bothering people like us who already have seats. In last night's case, it was a group of Chinese guys. The one who sat next to me was about nine feet tall, seven and a half pounds, with the boniest elbows anyone was every jabbed repeatedly with throughout a movie (that "anyone" being me). For some reason, he brought along his pet knapsack, which he insisted on keeping in his lap... thus, his winged-out elbows. His buddy had a chronic cough that came and went throughout the movie. Geez Louise.

The coming attractions rolled. All of them were forgettable slush, except one. Some Christmas show. It looked excorible. Ben Stiller is in it. Need I say more? Yes! Because suddenly, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman are in it! De Niro's playing the schlamazel role, which is rare for him (think Midnight Run), but when he does it, he's great. Listen, I don't care if Hoffman and De Niro stand there shouting the phone book at each other. It's going to be entertaining.

Then the theatre showed its classic dos and don'ts reel. These alternate between an outer space theme and an undersea theme. For a long time they only showed the outer space one. I missed the undersea one, with the demented octopus shoving popcorn in my face (but that's the one they showed last night). These things are bad, cheesy, cut-rate 3D animation done by some joint in New England. They come across like some precocious high school student's stiff test reel. Yeah, alright, kid, you're hired. Your dream's come true. Now get to work on this scene of Tony the Tiger riding a frosted flake like a bucking bronco. Stop crying! This is what you wanted...

So... the movie. :) Well, Rotten Tomatoes had it running at 86% "fresh" yesterday; an unusually strong showing. An indication of good things! True enough. This is a good movie. So good, in fact, that at several points in the movie, I found myself thinking, "my goodness, this is really a good movie!" That's how good it was.

The story opens—without credits, as P-Doug pointed out—in LA, where a cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) is picking up a young woman, who turns out to be an attourney. In an enviable exchange of dialogue that always neaty dodged getting boring or silly, these two get to know each other over about five minutes. When Max hands her the photograph of the tiny island he takes mental "vacations" to, you realize it's one of those moments where someone you'll never meet again touches your life in some singular way, and years later while you're looking for something else, you'll come across the item and suddenly be right back there. Like I said, it's a really good movie. THAT kinda movie.

Anyway, Max's next fare is Vincent, a dapper-dressed but in-need-of-a-shave Tom Cruise. Vincent and Max get gassing too, and before long Vincent has roped Max into driving him around all night, while he attends to "errands", with the promise of six, no, seven hundred bucks. Max thinks that's pretty good, till a dead guy suddenly falls out of the sky onto his cab.

Okay, at this point, you have to go, hmm. Like, what are the odds? Alright, stranger things... Just go with it. So you go with it, and that's good, because later on, it's a plot point.

So, when Vincent returns, it doesn't take Max long to figure out from his attitude that he's responsible for the big human-shaped dent in his roof. At this point, Max essentially becomes Vincent's hostage, taking him from... ahem... errand to errand. At one point, Vincent even takes Max out for a drink at a jazz club. This is an interesting departure. Things become almost convivial as Vincent buys the owner a drink, and the owner regales them with the time in the 1960s that Miles Davis himself breezed into the club to jam. The mood sours when Vincent drops a name that apparently chills the blood of the jazz club owner, and suddenly Max and the viewer realize Vincent's here for more than just a snort and some tunes. The club owner maintains his dignity and aplomb all the way down... which is, I'm sorry to say, all the way. This movie features some hard, unusually brutal murders. This one is particularly effective because by the time Vincent kills him, you've come to like the club owner. Max's reaction and the viewer's are one and the same. This is a good movie, see.

An aside at this point... I'm not quite sure when it occurs in the movie now, because it's not closely tied to other events, but at one point (I think as Vincent's committing his second hit), Vincent ties Max's hands to this steering wheel and leaves him with the cab in the alley. Vincent does everything he can to attract attention. He attracts a couple of thieves who threaten him with a gun and steal his wallet, as well as Vincent's briefcase. Fortunately Vincent's there to set things right. Five quick bullets put down the other two guys. One of them eats a gratuitous just-to-make-sure sixth, and Vincent tosses Max his wallet back. What gets me about the scene is, yes... these are bad dudes. They robbed a guy. But the loud cheers that went up from a quarter of the audience when they were mercilessly killed sent shivers down my spine. Hey, folks... Vincent's the bad guy, remember?

I want to take a moment to praise the atmospherics. The cab sails around middle-of-the-night LA, and makes the place look otherworldly. A very compelling look at the place, through some deliberately odd camera shots (watch for the one with Max barely in the frame as some sort of refinery slowly passes by in the background). It's quiet, deserted, dark but softly lit. Makes you want to be there, dream there.

Now a lot of people get killed in the course of this thing, including the cop with brains and a heart of gold. Now I figured his appearance heralded the start of the 'buddy' movie, where in the end the cop would pop up and blow away the baddy and save Max. Uh uh. He eats Lead à la Vincent on the way out the door of a club. And that's it for him. No "lucky I had on my flack jacket!" scene later. He's dead. Meanwhile, his boss who shrugged the whole thing off to the FBI is at home, safe and warm in his jammies. It's that kinda movie.

The ending, though, doesn't sit quite right. I mean, it's not bad enough to ruin the movie, but it goes for all the cheap cliches they'd pretty much managed to avoid till then. The fifth and last "errand" of the night turns out to be... tah dah! the lawyer chick from scene one! Now... I can accept a lawyer and Max might strike up some chemistry. I can accept that Vincent's job is greasing prosecution witnesses and, yes, ultimately the prosecuting attourney. I can accept that the woman Max met at the beginning is that same attourney. But... not all of them. Not all together. That's just asking a little too much. Why couldn't the lawyer have been a guy? Would a guy not be worth saving, just because he's not a romantic prospect? Or just some stranger? Wouldn't Max try to save anyone, after all the death he's seen? But anyway...

When Vincent finally corners the lawyer, Annie (Jada Smith), he doesn't pop her like he's done everyone else. No, he sneers and closes in on her as she crawls away like some helpless black Faye Wray. That struck me as too out of character. To me, no way would he take any chances. If she gets in his sights, she's meat. So I had a hard time with him not taking care of business. If he's got a problem shooting women, they never set it up. Likewise, when Max shows up pointing a gun at Vincent, nobly telling him to "let her go", Vincent actually talks to him instead of dropping him like a 200 lb. sack of spuds. Now earlier, we saw Vincent chew through about fifteen heavily-armed guards in a night club like he was doing a floor routine. But he can't kill a single guy who, five mintues ago, didn't even know enough about guns to shoot out a window on his first try? Come on.

Max manages to wound Vincent and he and Annie escape to the subway, where the final showdown occurs (this is kind of set up earlier in the movie by off-the-cuff remarks Vincent makes about how impersonal LA is). Separated by a steel door, Max, who probably knows about as much about guns as I do (nothing) manages to gun down a professional, Vincent, as he closes in. Sorry, I don't really buy that. Then Vincent, apparently shot through the right lung or liver, sits down calmly like Roy at the end of Blade Runner to blow poignant air over Max and Annie who, apparently now out of danger from this dead man sitting, gape at him as he cracks wise a couple times and croaks. Okay, you knew he had to die at the end, but it's cheap. It's like he wanted to die. He gave Max and Annie way way way too many chances that no dedicated professional hitman would have done. I wanted them to win, of course, but by guile... by outsmarting Vincent, waiting for him to screw up, and then hoisting him on it. Instead, we end up with just this sorta 'aw shucks, Tex, yuh got me' ending. Max and Annie wander off, presumably to have a life together, while Vincent rides the metro to hell, the end. Still, not enough to ruin it. Went from a 9 to an 8, that's all. This is a buyer and a keeper. I'll be watching for it.

Oh... and the soundtrack was AWESOME. Gotta get me some of that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I admire your friends courage and I am sorry for your loss.
How do we begin to prepare for our own demise let alone share this tragic news with friends family etc.Knowledge is wisdom but in some cases ignorance is bliss.
It is fabled that the cyclops traded one of his eyes to a demon in exchange for the power to see into the future, he was cheated by the demon, the only foresight he was granted was the knowledge of the exact day and time he would die. This always made me sad.
Modern medicine creates many cyclops, how utterly powerless we are.