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A Los Angeles cab driver unwittingly becomes the chauffer for a hired assassin.
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To improve upon the depth and detail of the nighttime images for his 2004 thriller Collateral, director Michael Mann shot the exterior footage with high definition digital cameras giving the movie a gritty documentary feel. Initially it was jarring to see the usually glamorous Tom Cruise playing the grey-haired assassin Vincent; however, the shock quickly disappears as he effortlessly dissolves into his psychotically-charming character. The pivotal role is given to Jamie Foxx who plays the unfortunate cabbie, Max. The transformation from being the victim to the victor is so believable that the performance provided Foxx with one of his two Oscar nominations that year.
The Chicago filmmaker impressed Tom Cruise with his vision for the motion picture. “When Michael sent the script he sent different stills,” explained the box office megastar, “almost an art motif of things he was thinking about, and what he wanted to explore. It was just something else because his vision of L.A. and what he sees has real emotion, has real poetry. I knew it was going to be a lot of fun and it was.”
In regards to the nondescript attire Cruise wears doing the course of the film, Mann stated: “It's not really a disguise, but it's anonymous. If somebody actually witnesses him and police ask for a description, what are people going to say? A middle-aged, middle-height guy wearing a middle grey suit and white shirt. It describes anybody and nobody.”
The majority of the film takes place in a taxi cab with occasional flashes of gunfire. “We don't see it as an action film,” said Mann. “We see it as a drama. It's as extreme as it can be. In this one night, where these guys have been, whatever their expectations and dreams are for the future, everything is going to change. They are not going to be the same people after tonight. That's an idea, that's a dramatic idea. Then we worked very hard to build the characters and make them as real and three-dimensional as possible, just the way you are in your own lives, with as much specificity as we could build in. Then we do the dramatic scenario and that's really it.”
With the taxi having such a key role in the movie, Mann revealed, “We built 17 cabs. Some had no fronts, some had no sides. Some we didn't use at all. What actually worked out was that sequence where they're supposed to be in a real cab with someone, either myself or Gary Jay, with the camera on his shoulder, was in one of the seats. But the interesting thing about a cab is that you have to view it as an opportunity because if you have two people, they're both facing the camera, but whenever we elect to, the man in the backseat can have his own thoughts coming across his face because the other guy is not necessarily seeing him.”
The H.D. technology has found a convert in the veteran moviemaker. “For this movie, it was great shooting in digital.” However, there were complications that needed to be worked out. Mann stated, “It required a lot. It was like having a camera that's attached on an umbilical to your refrigerator at home. So it wasn't portable. But it enabled me to be very painterly with building the scene. It's counterintuitive to photograph in every conceivable way. Throw a light meter away, you don't need it. It's right there on a high def monitor. But it requires knowing exactly what you want because what's available is a much broader spectrum than a motion picture film.”
Tom Cruise had nothing but praise for his director: “It was exciting. And I could feel it. And as an actor, I love movies. I have seen all of Mann's movies. It's something you want to look at and study because he designs his pictures from the ground up and he really has a tremendous command of the medium and the storytelling.”