Collateral (Mann, 2004)


I get hypnotized by the films of Michael Mann. Maybe it’s his meticulous tracking of groups, professionals (on both sides of the law and in between) living within an oblivious outside world, always committed to a hidden code of ethics and respect no matter the situation. Like Melville, and some of John Woo, Michael Mann’s films immerse themselves completely within this collective of insiders, varying sections of men with guns converging on each other with deadly results, but never without rhyme or reason. Mann’s oeuvre is of course glossy, but it’s anchored by a sense of place (often Los Angeles), an intimate knowledge of one’s surroundings (Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter), and the need to battle with others of similar ilk. These confrontations are masterfully shot, showing the process of executing a job, or person, in order to survive. Besides the epic street shootout in Heat, Collateral provides the best example of the modern battlefields of Michael Mann. Collateral, like many other Mann films, feels personal on a grand scale, this time a journey of two men (Max, innocent and Vincent, evil) gliding toward rebirth through the dark and bullet riddled infrastructure of Los Angeles. The many orders of men working within the world of Collateral include the LAPD (best represented by Mark Ruffalo), The FBI, and the Mexican Mafia. As Mann’s gripping Neo-noir character study converges on Club Fever in the latter third of the film, both Vincent and Max induce Collateral‘s ordeal, a staggeringly mature action sequence with multiple layers of meaning. On the surface, Vincent’s massacre of countless security guards and mafia members results in saving Max’s life, a strange shift since we already know he intends to kill Max later. Looking beyond plot, the shootout in Fever represents a hypnotic collision between the common citizens of the outside world, i.e. the hordes of dancers, bar tenders, etc, and the deadly professionals of Mann’s world. Immediately before the shootout begins, Mann pans up the legs of two attractive women dancing erotically together, only to have Vincent storm right through their tango, disrupting a classic “male gaze” moment, and continuing on to carry out his killing spree. It’s clear Mann is not interested in what’s usually used to market and sell Hollywood films. Any other director would hold on the image of the women, maybe even have Vincent look at them, then pass. But not Michael Mann, and this is why his films resonate so beautifully within the classic crime picture genre. His battles have no time or place for distractions, namely because the men taking part use timing and experience to attain victory. They are, in essence, professionals of focus, no matter the moral conundrum raised in the process. Neil McCauley and Vincent Hanna in Heat, Crocket and Tubbs in Miami Vice, Nathaniel in Last of the Mohicans, and Will Graham in Manhunter, exist to compete within the world of men like themselves, rising to a challenge often confounded and complicated by loyalties and duties toward those they care for and respect. Collateral, a masterful example of this, shows Vincent and Max as polar opposites, but surprisingly they partake in the same sort of professional experience. The battlefields of Michael Mann often reveal these sort of complex relationships, and while the chrome and glass shatter relentlessly all around, he never lets you forget it’s a fascinating world to lose yourself in.

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