On the surface, Michael Mann‘s 80s classic Miami Vice and his new film Collateral really don’t have much in common. Different location, different premise, different era. But his ability to bring cities to life through the spectacle of their lights while creating an undertow of tension and longing permeates each show. His trademark mixing of gritty realism (gunfights aren’t in slow-mo; they take place at ferocious speed) with the surreal milky emptiness of night is just as much in evidence now as it was then.
While Mann’s recent TV flop, Robbery Homicide Division, took a stab at bringing out the lights of LA and had some visuals that sang (though it periodically descended into typical crime drama cliches), Collateral takes it up a notch. In Collateral, Mann takes a virtually empty Los Angeles night and allows his characters (Tom Cruise’s cocky self-justifying hitman and Jamie Foxx’s soft-spoken dream deferred cab driver) to grow and fill the space. Only when we visit night clubs, bars, and the occasional populated street do we meet the other characters who help add color to this quietly tense world. Sound familiar?
Though Collateral certainly isn’t Miami Vice, it does in many ways represent what Michael Mann does best. It’s nice to see him doing something at once familiar and so different.