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"Collateral"

STYLISH AND restrained, Michael Mann's new thriller has Tom Cruise playing a hit man. And those of you who think he is just a terrific looking man and nothing else, will be surprised to see how beautifully he plays his role.

And there is Jamie Foxx who is supposed to be the film's leading man. But never once does he get overshadowed by Cruise, whose star status often precedes him.

"Collateral" is first and foremost the director's film. He is able to electrically charge it with tension and suspense in the most innocuous of situations and places. With good pacing, superb cinematography and effective editing, the film has a rhythm of its own never rushing to tell the story, but not dragging either.

From its quiet but classy opening, the film fills the viewers with images and sounds of downtown L.A. A world empty and pensive waiting for things to happen! And they do!

Max (Foxx) is a cabbie doing his job with sweet serenity claiming that it is a part time one till he realises a grand limo business.

It is a usual night as he picks up passengers. There comes this highly strung attorney from the Department of Justice preparing for an important case.

She finds Max endearing in his honesty and motivation to do routes on time and with preparation. He drops her off and then comes a man Vincent (Tom Cruise) with steel grey hair and in a smart business suit who talks him into driving him around through the night as he finishes a deal. And is willing to pay more than he would normally get. Tension is just beginning, but the lights of L.A. are shining and the banter is genial.

As he waits for Vincent at the first halt where he needs to settle some business, the change in mood is abrupt. A body crashes onto the top of the cab and Max is horrified to find the windshield cracked and there is blood all over.

A cool Vincent says, ``Well, I killed him.'' Max now has an inkling of what Vincent's business is going to be that night. And there is no escape.

The film has plenty of action coincidences. You will have to believe that a contract killer would hire a cab driver when he is on a `mission.' Anyway, the driver's actions and reactions do cause excitement.

Most of the film is inside a cab and how often do passengers have meaningful conversations about life in the span of their journey?

Foxx does a very good job of the man who is innately decent making honesty his personal ethos and rises to the challenge of facing the cool but savage Tom Cruise. And most often the two performers are nothing less than galvanising. And in the climax if the film derails a bit, you don' t really mind!

CHITRA MAHESH

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