16 years later, Michael Mann’s “Collateral” is as strong a neo-noir as ever. But does HDR improve or distract?

In the included commentary for Collateral, director Michael Mann comments that the film picks up in the third act of a standard film. He’s not wrong at all with this description as the audience is given a clue of location with the sound of an airplane during the intro credits before we’re shown Tom Cruise’s yet unnamed individual walking through a terminal before bumping into Jason Statham’s also unnamed character. The action begun, the mystery set, the audience is forced to glean from context who everyone is and what’s going down as it happens. It infuses the entire film with an energy that only a director like Mann can maintain throughout, never dulling even at its most ludicrous points. Shot with a mixture of traditional and digital lenses, Mann’s Collateral feels like less of a film and more of an adventure, one in which the audience is made consort by association. Even now, 16 years after its theatrical release, Collateral remains just as exciting and thrilling thanks to Mann’s direction, writer Stuart Beattie’s script, and career-best performances from leads Cruise and Jamie Foxx (who earned an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Role category). Dropping on 4K UHD for the first time December 1st, 2020, audiences can experience the thrill of Collateral with remastered picture given the HDR treatment under the supervision of Mann himself.

On a night like any other, cabbie Max (Foxx) picks up professional-type from the airport who introduces himself as Vincent (Cruise), looking to make five stops in one night in order to take care of a business deal. Even though it’s against regulations for a cabbie to stay with a rider as a personal service, Vincent’s offer of $600, with the chance of a bonus $100, entices the entrepreneurial Max to break that rule. What starts off innocently turns deadly in an instant when a body falls on Max’s cab, setting off a myriad of questions in Max’s mind: Who is Vincent, what does he want, and can I survive the night?

If your interest is only in the details of the release, skip the next paragraph to avoid narrative spoilers.

Sixteen years later, the things I love about this movie remain as glowing as ever, while the things that bother me gnaw just a little harder. I love how easily the film establishes tone and tenor in the introductions of both Vincent and Max. We know we’re in for an international-scale bit of intrigue thanks to the brief interaction between Vincent and Statham’s mystery man. With their styling, the knowing dialogue, and the quick bag switch, the audience is dialed in that something huge is underway and we’ve got to race to catch up. On the flip, Max is introduced amid the hustle-and-bustle of the cab garage, where he’s shown cleaning up the car and finding a bit of quiet in his island postcard hidden behind the driver’s sun visor. One is introduced as on the move, prowling, while the other is peace in a storm. I love how Vincent is presented as a man who barely believes the philosophical bullshit he espouses to Max, but understands that action always trumps didactic conversation. Conversely, Max is a man so full of patience that he doesn’t realize he’s halted his own growth in the pursuit of a perfect dream. This wonderful collision of ideas is less oil and water and more matches and gasoline as Max is confronted with his immobility and Vincent finds himself up against someone where brute force won’t solve the problem. It certainly helps that Cruise is magnetic as Vincent, ferocious, angry, and indisputably brutal in manner and word, offering a performance unlike any audiences had seen up to that point and, frankly, have yet to see since. (Aren’t you a little tired of being the hero, Tom? You’re clearly having fun here.) Meanwhile Foxx offers a performance that highlights his dynamic range of tenderness and kindness, meagerness and frailty, and temerity in the face of death all in one role. Here, though, is where the film loses me every time. What makes Max’s growth complete is the choice to take action after years of indolence, years of convincing himself that he wasn’t ready. So, when Max decides to crash the cab in an effort to stop Vincent’s bloody trail, the film should end, end with the first and last action of a man who finally learned to act. Instead, we’re presented with a shoot-out and a rescue by Max, which, thanks to dumb luck, he survives since he should not have the skills to outplay the highly-trained Vincent. What better way to take someone like Vincent out of commission than by doing the one thing he’d never expect. The rest just feels like Hollywood nonsense.

Here’s where we get into the bad news and it’s two-fold. First, the bonus materials included with this release contain not an iota of new material. If you’ve dug through the bonus materials included on the Blu-ray release, then you already know what’s included here. The only bonus is that the commentary from Mann is also accessible on the 4K UHD disc, so you can decide between the remaster or standard Blu-ray to accompany your commentary. Second, because Mann opted to primarily shoot using digital, a format that already offers a more natural look, the HDR-enhanced sequences are only noticeable when Mann shot on film. This is basically the two club sequences as the lighting inside the clubs didn’t capture the look as well on the digital cameras. So that’s one interrogation scene between Javier Bardem’s Felix and Max and one action sequence in which the Feds and local police interrupt Vincent’s fourth job. In these two scenes, the HDR does its job, infusing the sequences with a cleaner, more natural look. For the rest of the film, though, HDR is less impressive as the digital camera-shot scenes already possessed a certain full-bodied, unrefined quality. The neon glow of fluorescents, the visual look of the actors, and even Los Angeles-as-backdrop are no more impressive with the HDR addition than they are on standard high definition. It’s not that the film isn’t beautiful, it always was. It’s that the addition of HDR is far less noticeable in this remaster than in other films given the same treatment. So, between the barely perceptible improvement in picture and the repetition in bonus features, picking up this edition is really up to the consumer and their personal preferences.

Collateral Special Features

  • Commentary by Director Michael Mann
  • City of Night: The Making of Collateral
  • Special Delivery
  • Deleted Scene with Commentary
  • Shooting on Location: Annie’s Office
  • Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse
  • Visual FX: MTA Train

Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Pack December 8th, 2020.

Categories: Films To Watch, Home Release, Recommendation

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