I've been invited to over 500 screenings, but this was the first time I've ever seen rows 1 through 10 taped off. Generally, I like to sit close, especially for action films, but as I approached the front of the theater I was told that Michael Mann (the director) prefers we view the film from the best perspective. On the one hand, that's awfully thoughtful of him, and perhaps viewers will appreciate knowing his thoughts on the matter. On the other hand, this was not a suggestion, the seats were taped off and not one critic was seated in the first 10 rows. A suggestion would have suited, but the requirement proved a tad presumptuous and even suspicious.
Upon viewing, it was obvious that the image was riddled with digital artifacts. Either it was shot digitally or transferred for digital projection. In general, I have no problem with "digital" films, the latest "Star Wars" looks gorgeous. But, here the quality of the image suffered somewhat. Not a lot. Some pixilations, some halos around lights, grays where blacks should have been, and harsh pans. Nonetheless, the subjects where in sharp clean focus and the framing was fine. Still, I couldn't help but wonder why Mr. Mann wanted us out of those front rows -- did the quality of film look even worse there? Or was it the chunks of time the film spent in a moving vehicle. Perhaps a closer viewing would provoke motion sickness? (Oh additionally, very sporadically, the dialogue was difficult to decifer.)
As for the content, "Collateral" is itself a pretty cool idea. Many times this idea is executed well, but several times not. After you get used to the slightly cheesy graying hair and beard, Tom Cruise is awesome as the hardened hit man that enjoys waxing philosophic (though he does so teetering between optimism and cynicism). His is a very interesting character on its own and the film would have done well to delve further into him. But instead it favors action for its climax.
Foxx does a fair to midland job as the fair to midland taxi driver that involuntarily gets caught up in a night of killing. Though the directing is tight, acting strong overall, and action compelling, the film's real heart beats when the hit man and the taxi driver dual verbally. Sort of a "Driving Miss Daisy" meets "Last Samurai."
Two or three "unbelievabilities" soured the film for me; they might not for you. Our loyal taxi driver leaves an angered hardened killer alone with his mother. I don't buy it. And there are a few other contrivances intended to put our characters where the writer wants them hoping we won't notice the improbable set up.
Still, the strong back and forth between the two leads and some sturdy daring progressions make the film memorable.
Interesting note: Collateral was shot entirely in Los Angeles. Foxx says, "I tried to tell him, 'Mike, I'm from the ghetto.' and he said, 'You're not from the ghetto. I know the ghetto. You want me to show you some ghetto?' And he took me places where even I was like, 'Man, lock the doors!'"