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Collateral (Blu-ray Review)

29 Mar, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Street 3/30/10
$29.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for violence and language.
Stars Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo.

Truth to tell, the obvious Blu-ray “event” of the past couple weeks has been the tandem releases of Disney’s Toy Story and Toy Story 2 (1995-1999; also re-issued on regular DVD), though they’re not the 3D versions that played theaters last fall. Presumably, that double-dip will come eventually — but not even a full box of Dots in a dish or the imagined showroom of “Presley Cadillac” can boast the color schemes this Pixar duo displays in the advanced format. Just close your eyes and imagine how resplendent you think both movies could look – and they do.

Yet an even more compelling BD discussion point may be director Michael Mann’s psychological thriller with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx — because enough has happened since the original movie came out to wide acclaim that it’s possible, if anything, the picture seems a little underrated. Filmic fortunes can change on a dime for good or ill, and it now seems that this taut drama of a professional hit man and a hostage L.A. cabbie trekking him to nocturnal “appointments” represents some kind of recent peak for both Cruise and Mann.

Since its release almost six years ago, Cruise’s one real benchmark performance has been his gonzo Tropic Thunder cameo, while in real life too often hopping down the road to Foolsville. Mann, who for a while, seemed borderline invincible, has since made last year’s enormously disappointing Public Enemies (adapted from an outstanding book) and before that, the big-screen version of Miami Vice. Though I actually liked the latter — some — it’s much a more interesting movie around the edges than down the middle. And when Mann is “on” — Manhunter, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, The Insider, Collateral — the middle is something he really knows how to master.

Viewers who enjoy the snap-crackle-and-pop Mann brings to his urban melodramas get a trademark scene here when bullets fly inside a disco to a soundtrack that no one will ever mistake for chamber music. But we know right off this is, above all, a movie about its individuals when Stuart Beattie’s script — a rare one Mann didn’t write himself — takes time at the outset for a long exchange between Foxx and a lawyer-passenger played by Jada Pinkett Smith that engagingly establishes the character of both.

Paired with the Oscar-nominated performance he gave as the creep in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the movie makes a strong case that Cruise (sporting major gray here) is at his best when cast as a sociopath. Foxx, Oscar-nominated here in support the same year he won best actor for Ray, gets under the skin of an increasingly testy Cruise by delving into that character’s less-than-harmonious upbringing. Cruise retaliates by needling Foxx’s major tendency to procrastinate (the cab driver’s so-called temporary employment on the way to bigger plans has so far lasted 12 years).

Collateral was shot in high-def video, then kind of a novelty, and its rough, occasionally grainy look transfers effectively to Blu-ray as one of the best movies I know to convey “night.” It still has to be the only hit-man melodrama that stops off to visit an elderly woman in a hospital, and its showcasing of Mark Ruffalo as an undercover cop — the actor has become more of a reliable audience favorite than he was then — is just one more reason this is one endeavor that’s mellowing nicely with age.

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