Release Date(s)2004 (December 8, 2020)
Studio(s)Dreamworks Pictures (Paramount Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Director Michael Mann is not often mentioned in context with Howard Hawks, but he is arguably the modern heir to the throne of Hawksian professionalism. Mann has been making films analyzing professionals since his debut feature Thief, and arguably even in his first made for television film The Jericho Mile. Whether thieves, police officers, frontiersmen, boxers, or runners, he delves deeply into the expertise that his characters possess. While Collateral was not a project that he initiated, the script by Stuart Beattie fits perfectly with the rest of his filmography. The story involves Max (Jamie Foxx), an L.A. cab driver whose ride is hijacked by Vincent (Tom Cruise), a hitman who has a string of targets that he needs to eliminate in one night. Vincent is a perfectly amoral professional; for him, killing is simply a job, and one which he does very well. In typical Mann fashion, Cruise underwent a rigorous training program to learn how to use all of the tools of the trade with maximum comfort and efficiency (it was the first time that Cruise had trained with live ammunition). That preparation paid off beautifully; Cruise is completely believable as a professional killer—Mann’s own professionalism gelled perfectly with Cruise’s obsessive-compulsiveness.
What may be less obvious is that Max is equally professional. The film deftly establishes that he has a savant-like ability to instantly calculate the most efficient route to any destination, even though doing so will make less money. However, there’s one key difference between Max and Vincent, and that’s what drives the entire film. Vincent’s career is based on calculated risk; he boldly does whatever he needs to do, improvising as necessary. On the other hand, Max is incapable of taking any risk whatsoever, both in his personal and his professional life. Vincent chooses to use Max as a driver because he sees that Max is passive and easy to push around. However, he quickly recognizes Max’s abilities and sees that the two of them are kindred spirits in terms of professionalism. Once he becomes aware of this, he feels annoyed by Max’s paralysis. He starts to goad Max out of his inertia, but by forcing Max outside of his comfort zone, Vincent removes the one thing which was necessary to control the driver. Vincent takes personal offense that a professional would lack the courage to take action, so he helps Max gain that courage, and ends up paying the price for it.
Mann’s own professionalism and willingness to take risks resulted in him choosing to shoot a high percentage of the film on digital video in an era in which the technology had yet to mature. He had experimented with doing so for a few shots in Ali, and loved the fact that the limited exposure latitude of digital allowed him to shoot things which would have been impossible on film. Even at night, he could keep the foreground character and background scenery exposed equally. He also embraced the flaws inherent in early digital cinematography—he wasn’t afraid to let video look like video, so the film is filled with digital noise and motion artifacts. That created a clash with his original cinematographer Paul Cameron, who left the project to be replaced by Dion Beebe. Mann also continued his use of unconventional framing, frequently violating standard rules of screen direction. He loves framing characters off to one side and having them look off screen rather than back into the empty side of the frame—it creates a feeling of distance between characters who don’t see eye-to-eye. For technical as well as thematic reasons, Collateral is the perfect expression of Mann’s controlled risk-taking.
Collateral was shot on a combination of 35 mm film and digital video. The daylight scenes and most interiors were shot in Super-35 with ARRIFLEX 435 cameras (as well as Panavision Panaflex Millennium and Millennium XL cameras) using Panavision Primo spherical lenses. Nighttime exteriors (including vehicular interiors) were shot in 1080p video using Sony HDW-F900 and Thomson Viper cameras with Zeiss DigiPrime lenses. While sequences shot with the Sony had to be cropped to achieve the 2.39:1 aspect ratio at a final resolution of 1920 x 764, the Viper could perform a native internal anamorphic squeeze, and so those shots are at the full 1920 x 1080 resolution. The production experimented with the full 4:4:4 uncompressed RAW FilmStream mode for the Vipers, but the decision was made to use the compressed VideoStream mode instead for various practical reasons. The final film was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at 2.39:1. For this Ultra HD release, Paramount has upscaled that source to 4K and graded it for HDR under Mann’s supervision (both HDR10 and Dolby Vision are included on the disc). (It’s possible that original camera negative has been rescanned in native 4K too where available.) The improvements are modest but still perceptible, primarily in the sequences shot on film. Those show slight improvements in detail, while the video footage does not. While many of the nighttime video shots have flatter contrast and elevated black levels by design, the daylight shots and the interiors do feature improved contrast and black levels. A few of the club scenes also display slightly more saturated colors. Perhaps most importantly, the digital noise is handled much better here than on the Blu-ray version thanks to the greater breathing room offered by the Ultra HD format—there aren’t any compression artifacts which add more noise on top of the noise. The motion artifacts are still present, but again those were inherent in the original cinematography.
The audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Descriptive Audio, German 5.1 Dolby Digital, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English, English SDR, German, and French subtitles. Commentary subtitle options include English, German, and French. The primary 5.1 track is the same one available on previous versions, and while an Atmos remix would have been interesting, this is a first-rate mix. Much of it is handled subjectively from the point of view of the characters—for instance, when Max shuts the door of his cab, ambient sounds are instantly dialed down to mimic the feeling of isolation that he gets when he goes to work. Things do spring to aggressive life when called for, with plenty of dynamic impact from gunfire and car crashes, as well as strong directional effects such as helicopters circling the viewer. The sound design in Mann’s film has always been excellent regardless of the number of channels available, and Collateral is no exception.
Paramount’s Ultra HD release is a 2-Disc set which includes a Blu-ray version, as well as a paper insert with a Digital Copy code. Extras include the following:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary by Michael Mann
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:11)
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary by Michael Mann
- City of Night: The Making of Collateral (SD – 40:59)
- Special Delivery (SD – 1:09)
- Deleted Scene with Commentary (SD – 1:57)
- Shooting on Location: Annie’s Office (SD – 2:34)
- Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse (SD – 4:13)
- Visual FX: MTA Train (SD – 2:27)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 2:11)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:18)
The commentary by Mann is one of his typically insightful tracks which covers the technical details of the production, as well as his views of the characters and the story. On the technical side, he doesn’t simply cover the minutiae of the camerawork, editing, and music, but also the nature of both hitmen and cab drivers, and how that informed the decisions that he made while making the film—for Mann, technology and character are always intertwined. City of Night is a brief but instructive documentary featuring interviews with Mann, Cruise, Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Stuart Beattie, and various other members of the cast and crew. Mann talks about what attracted him to the project, and discusses how he used training to help Cruise and Foxx find their characters, with the two actors giving their own thoughts about the process. Special Delivery has Mann telling the story of how he had Cruise pretend to be a FedEx delivery driver to help learn how to blend in to a crowd. The deleted scene shows Max and Vincent dumping their surveillance at LAX. Shooting on Location features Mann explaining why it was important to him to see the real Los Angeles backgrounds through the windows during the climactic cat and mouse game. The rehearsals show Cruise and Foxx working on the sequence where a body falls on the roof of the cab, and the ride that follows it. Visual FX has Mann showing how he used green screens during the final scene on the MTA train so that he could control the backgrounds.
Collateral is the perfect fusion of characters marked by Hawksian professionalism and a director known for his own professionalism and attention to detail. The whole thing is a master class in expertise both in front of the camera and behind it. Even when the characters and the filmmakers take risks, nothing was really left to chance.
- Stephen Bjork