Saturday, August 14, 2004

Here at last!

I made it through another week of herding middle schoolers through ESL. Now I need to lie down, pray, read, and sleep (in any order). It's nothing but a sleep-in day tomorrow.

But, before I go, I want to give mad props to *Collateral* once more. (I already gave a brief glowing review here at FCA.) I saw it again tonight, keeping my word that it is one of the few movies I was determined, not merely willing, to see again. It's an incredibly smart movie, and I don't just mean the plotting. The themes in it are deep and rich. Granted, one reader mentioned some reviewers' worries about the practical implausibilities of the film, but I think these minor oddities (which I didn't even notice, so engrossed in the film I was) can be attenuated by four factors. First, let's be honest, it's a movie. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

Second, stealing a car immediately draws the heat, and renting one leaves that much more of a chance of being identified or tagged. Paying by credit leaves a trail and paying by cash is conspicuous. Commandeering a taxi keeps you anonymous on both ends. Besides, can we really consider $600 or $700 a "considerable cost" for an elite hit man? Money should not be an implausibility for us because it is not an issue for Vincent.

Third, Vincent is not simply a professional killer, but also a sociopath. It may simply be his preference, his MO, to use another person, particularly an unsuspecting taxi driver, for his work. There is a strong suggestion in the film that Vincent has done this before. Further, limiting the action to a taxi significantly enhances the dramatic tension. How unutterably boring it would be for Vincent to drive by himself from hit to hit in a rental car!

Fourth, insofar as Mann is making not only a crime story but is also telling a moral story, he has every right to use small "implausibilities" to make his point. Was Sartre's *No Exit* implausible because all four characters are stuck in a single room? Yes, obviously; but it was that much better and cogent because of it. One of the strongest clues that Mann is making a smart, idea-movie, in addition to a razor-sharp thriller, is the scene in the taxi after, I believe, the first hit when Vincent is ruminating out loud about the insignificance of one life: “Of millions of galaxies in an endless sea of stars on one planet, a speck of dust” (NB: an inaccurate quote from memory). This is an almost complete lift from Tolstoy’s *Anna Karenin* (or, if I’m mistaken, *War and Peace*).

One of the most interesting insights I had tonight in my second viewing is how Vincent and Max are poised as foils in the work world. Both are working men. Both are very good at what they do. Both, in fact, actually merge into one person in the latter half of the film, and we see how easy it is for Max to become what Vincent is: an ice-cold hit man trying to survive. The key line that tipped me off in this train of thought is what Vincent says in the movie trailer: "I do this for a living!" Both men are driven, not by their dreams -- which Vincent seems to lack and which Max chronically fails to achieve -- but by their professions.

Although I refuse to call *Collateral* an action-packed allegory or a bullet-ridden parable, I insist we must view Max and Vincent as moral and philosophical foils. This is clearest, first, when, in the scene just mentioned, Max gets radically involved in Vincent’s persona, and, second, when Max seems to absorb Vincent’s pessimistic philosophy spontaneously and Vincent is suddenly no longer in control. The roles reverse and, tellingly, the role of the taxi (itself almost a character) radically changes. The taxi is not just an edgy gimmick (or, if you like, implausibility) in the film; it is an essential element of well-crafted character development.

Clearly, this movie has stirred many thoughts in me, and I hope I can keep pondering it. It may sound prodigal or silly, but I may just go see the film a third time in the theater -- this time, however, by myself. (NB: Tonight’s viewing was marred by an old Taiwanese couple seated to my right. Not only did they chatter now and then, but also committed one of my all-time movie pet peeves: laughing during an obviously grave scene. DRIVES, ME, UP, THE, WALL!)

The bottom line? *Collateral* is unquestionably one of my favorite films and it is very probably the best film of the year. Not to say all these are Ocar winners, but: best dialogue, most sophisticated themes, best soundtrack, best action, best acting, best cinematography (and yet, worst ending). All for now...

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