In Michael Mann's new thriller Collateral, Jamie Foxx plays a cab-driver who has perfected his craft to the level of a science. Instantly pinpointing how long it takes to get from one place to another, he conducts himself with such precision and low-key professionalism that passengers assume, understandably, that he's on his way to bigger and better things. Though stuck in the kind of interim job that has a funny way of lasting a lifetime, Foxx likes to think he's destined for more as well, even if he can't quite convince himself that he's ready to make the leap from overachieving employee to entrepreneur. On one eventful Los Angeles evening, he receives encouragement and sage advice from an unlikely source: hit man Tom Cruise, who ropes Foxx in as an unwitting accomplice as Cruise goes about the dirty business of contract killing.
Under Cruise's tutelage, Foxx moves from panic and fear to determination and resolve, gradually inheriting his passenger's assertiveness and will. In one memorable scene, he even does a spot-on impersonation of Cruise, who exudes boyish cockiness even with gray hair and manly stubble. A big part of Collateral's low-key charm is its self-containment. Working in a minor key on a small scale, the film largely, and wisely, limits itself to the story of two men, one cab, one vividly rendered city, and one hectic night. Unfortunately, Mann and screenwriter Stuart Beattie don't seem to trust their central relationship enough, and they throw in a hacky final plot twist and a gratuitous subplot involving tough cops Mark Ruffalo and Peter Berg, who are both saddled with thinly conceived characters and the film's stiffest dialogue.
A stand-up comedian, R&B singer, and television veteran, Foxx has evolved into a dramatic actor of depth and subtlety, and after giving a revelatory supporting performance in Mann's underrated Ali, he proves here that he can carry a film. Dispensing bullets and wisdom with equal aplomb, Cruise takes his all-American bravado into intriguingly dark places. Mann's moody Collateral unravels toward the end, faltering at its conclusion but dispensing enough atmosphere, characterization, and world-weary humanism along the way that audiences would be wise to enjoy the ride without worrying too much about the final destination.