Slow paced with spurts of intensity that will suck you in due to the excellent acting by Cruise and Foxx make Collateral a must-see.
I have not yet read any reviews of Collateral so you're getting this fresh, without any subconscious influences concerning what others are saying, and I'll say this: Collateral has... weight.
By that I don't mean that it's heavy, but that it feels like it has substance, it draws your attention. Sure, that's what a movie is supposed to do (dramas, anyway) but how many times have you sat through a film that feels more like the Cliffs Notes version of a movie? Kind of like "Movie-Lite"? That's certainly not the case here.
The film opens with the Dreamworks and Paramount logos in black and white, with the opening scene of the movie shot extremely grainy, but in color. I don't really understand the reason for that... maybe someone smarter than me has it in their review. In any case Vincent, our grey-haired assassin (Tom Cruise) bumps into an unknown (to us) person (Jason Stathom who you may recognize from the recent film The Transporter). They intentionally switch suitcases and part ways. I had really hoped that Stathom would turn up in the movie later, but that's the last we see of him.
You probably know the basic story by now: Max the cabdriver (Jamie Foxx) is unlucky enough to pick up Vincent the paid assassin, who happens to have a number of jobs to do one night and wants Max to be the chauffer for the evening.
Before picking up Vincent, Max picks up extremely attractive customer Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) as a fare, and they have time to connect during the drive. She's a prosecutor and he's a cabbie with plans to open up his own limo business. Max turns out to be intuitive and soft-spoken, and by the end of the ride there's a connection there.
Cut to Vincent almost not getting in Max's cab while Max daydreams about Annie. Even though I knew what was to come, some part of me was hoping that Vincent would not get in Max's cab, but of course he does. Vincent passes himself off as a real estate investor who needs to get papers signed by five clients all across town that night and offers Max double what he would normally earn for a full night's work.
Things get ugly right off the bat as the first assassination does not quite go according to plan and Max finds out about it (to say the least!). Vincent's idea was that Max would never know, but it doesn't phase him: he "adapts, evolves" and keeps the situation in hand. So from there it's all about Max not wanting to be a party to this yet not being able to get away, all the while trying to figure out how to stop Vincent.
I can see why Cruise chose to do this film: Vincent is not a caricatured "bad guy". Sure, he's a sociopath, but he has moments where he shows he's got a tiny bit of humanity left when he helps out Max on more than one occasion. He also has his own personal Nietzschean philosophy which he seems to be eager to share. His point of view is very defeatist, yet pragmatic, and he actually brings some enlightenment to Max, although not in the manner he intended. Cruise's Vincent is actually quite personable until he starts filling you with bullet holes. He slips into the role quite comfortably, and I never for a moment thought "Hey, that's Tom Cruise, he's supposed to be the good guy".
Foxx was also effective as a mellow guy who just doesn't want any trouble, but who is pushed further and further and is willing to step beyond his personality when he sees that the situation is not going to get better any time soon. He's certainly come a long way from In Living Color, and he's much more believable in a serious role than say, Jim Carrey, who in contrast seems to ooze sincerity to the point that it doesn't look sincere.
The movie worked well, giving us time to get to know the characters with extended scenes, instead of cutting back and forth in a choppy manner to indicate things happening simultaenously. There is more than one way to show that, and it was done well here, so props to the editor. However if you're an adrenaline junkie who walks out of a movie thinking it was lame because the music wasn't blaring and the movie wasn't a two hour long action sequence, you might be disappointed.
Michael Mann has done well once again, and seems to be on the short list of consistently good directors. The movie probably could have lost about 3 or 4 minutes about 3/4 of the way through to pick up the pacing, but beyond that, it is a great film.