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Collateral tops US box office

Θεάματα : Θέατρο - Κινηματογράφος - Τηλεόραση

Tom Cruise's new film Collateral has topped the US box office in its first weekend. The dark, Michael Mann-directed thriller performed better than expected, taking an estimated $24.4 million.

Last weekend's top earner, M Night Shyamalan's The Village, claimed second spot despite losing 67% of its opening audience.

The weekend's other big release, Sony Pictures' Little Black Book, had a disappointing start, opening in fifth place with an estimated $7 million.

Michael Mann's "Collateral" rides its urban surfaces hard, pressing the accelerator steadily to the floor, building tension and upping the ante at every turn. The movie never really gets below that surface. It sticks to the mean streets of Los Angeles without much introspection or analysis. But those surfaces are slick and beguiling. Where director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader once made a movie about a taxi driver that portrayed what they saw as America's descent into social madness and random violence, this taxi tale from Mann and writer Stuart Beattie is a high-concept thriller with no other agenda. Nevertheless, it is quite a ride.

Starring Tom Cruise as a ruthless, methodical hit man and Jamie Foxx as the unfortunate cabbie forced to drive him around Los Angeles for a night's worth of whackings, "Collateral" is fueled with pure adrenaline. The plot is an audience grabber, and Cruise's name means a big opening weekend. Audiences may skew male, but females will certainly be drawn to this taut, well-told tale.

The film cuts to the chase quickly enough -- in fact, the movie never really cuts away from the chase -- but it does open with separate quiet interludes. Cruise's contract killer, Vincent, gets his instructions at LAX and, more interestingly, Foxx's Max, a cab driver for 12 years who still thinks of the job as "temporary," picks up his first ride of the night. Federal prosecuting attorney Annie Farrell (Jada Pinkett Smith) has little interest in Max until a debate about the best route to downtown leads to a friendly wager. Which brings about a connection between the high-powered professional and blue-collar guy that prompts Annie to give her card to Max without quite knowing why.

His next ride is Vincent.

Nattily dressed in an impeccably tailored gray suit with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and a four-day beard, Cruise is Mr. Cool. Oozing confidence and a bright determination to finish off five human beings in a night, Vincent not only won't take no for an answer, he doesn't even know what "no" means. This is a silky smooth performance from Cruise without much nuance or emotional dimension yet crackling with intensity.

Foxx, meanwhile, runs a gamut of emotions brilliantly. Beginning his shift with bored indifference, he experiences blood-chilling fear, fumbling attempts to escape his predicament, a burning desire to outsmart this wise guy and finally a need to dig deep inside himself to assume roles he never imagined himself playing in life.

Initially, Vincent pays Max $600 to hire him to run errands. When the first errand makes the nature of Vincent's business clear to Max -- indeed the victim's body winds up in his trunk -- he becomes Vincent's captive.

Narcotics detective Fanning (an almost unrecognizable Mark Ruffalo) happens onto the first crime scene and immediately senses something is up. This puts blood hounds on Vincent's trail long before either he or Max is aware of it.

The film then divides into parallel stories -- the intimate interaction in the cab between two desperate men, the psychological gamesmanship of probing for the other's weak spot, and the cops and, later, the FBI sorting out the implication of the bodies piling up at the morgue and racing to prevent the last two hits.

All of which allows Mann to return to the feverish L.A. streets he prowled in "Heat." Utilizing two cinematographers, Dion Beebe and Paul Cameron, and shooting 80% of the film digitally, Mann turns these nearly empty streets into a hell in half-tones. They glow dreamlike in the red, yellow and green of half-shadows and phosphorescent and neon lights. Roaming the streets are scenesters, clubbing at night spots run by gangsters, and sullen predators including three coyotes who cross in front of Max's taxi. Mann's cityscape exists in a spiritual void, where anything can happen and few truly care.

Beattie could have supplied sharper dialogue for Vincent and Max. Their bickering over the morality of Vincent's job and the insignificance of Max's merely kills time. Not that Beattie needed to turn the hostage crisis into existential drama, but he could have explored the characters in greater depth than trifling insults and moral indignation.

The third act moves the plot beyond the boundaries of credibility. People generally don't walk away from gunshot wounds and car crashes quite so easily. Attorneys do not work in their offices at 3 a.m., nor, for that matter, does the subway operate then.

Technical credits couldn't be better as the cinematography, James Newton Howard's music and Jim Miller and Paul Rubell's editing coalesce to produce a captivating portrait of the underbelly of a blissfully unaware society. Incidentally, Javier Bardem has an effective cameo appearance as a drug baron.

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