announcer offstage intoning the usual bans against cell phones, cameras,
recording devices ended the list of don'ts by warning, "I'll
be watching you." The speaker was Tom Cruise.
And so began
IFP/Los Angeles Film Festival first weekend kick-off tribute: a
thoughtfully constructed, artfully paced and well produced evening
boasting one of the biggest marquee names on the planet, honoring
the vision of one of America's top directors of crime thrillers,
and saluting the city that is the mecca of movie-making. "Michael
Mann's L.A.: Realizing Collateral" cut right to
A clip rolled,
the famous ending of Kiss Me Deadly, with its exploding Malibu
beach house. IFP president Vondie Curtis Hall came on. People
were thanked. Kenneth Turan, the evening's moderator, made
a joke. The famous opening of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil played
and Michael Mann explained that the three-minute-long nighttime
tracking shot whose setting is supposed to be the U.S.-Mexican border
was actually filmed in Venice. We were off to the races.
that some of the problems Welles faced with this sequence--including
having only a 30-minute window to get it before the light was gone--were
difficulties he had to surmount in making Collateral, which
takes place largely at night. He then talked about Heat,
the 1995 heist caper which he shot here; he chose L.A. as the story's
location because, he maintains, the city is under-shot. "It's
a fabulously diverse 17-million megalopolis," he said, "that
also has an industrial landscape. I like the feelings of ennui and
alienation the vacant landscape suggests."
to the stage his collaborator and producer Gusmano Cesaretti,
who has worked with him since 1979. The two segued to Collateral,
a project Mann was initially drawn to because it takes place in
a short time wherein an assassin and jazz aficionado named Vincent
(Cruise) hijacks Maxx, a cabbie (Jamie Foxx), to chauffeur
him around L.A. as he completes five hits. Mann said the compressed
10-hour time frame (from 6 PM to 4 AM) was intriguing because it
allowed him to build character exposition differently: "You
get a sense of their experience through what's implied. The cast
created biographies and histories of their characters which were
not part of the text."
These were sentiments
echoed by Cruise, who came on after a clip from the first L.A.-set
movie he saw as a kid, Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.
"I wanted to work with Michael Mann for a while; we'd
been talking about it for fifteen years. I was doing Risky Business
when I first saw Thief. When I read the script of Collateral
I could see it was special; you could almost hear it, like a fine
piano tuning." Mann said the role was the right one for Cruise
at a time when the actor wanted to make a significant departure
from his previous roles: "Playing Vincent, a very droll, lethal
sociopath, is very, very different. The commitment of Tom to become
another person is quite extraordinary. He throws himself into his
role completely, with great art and great fun." Cruise added,
"I never look at a character in terms of making him sympathetic,
or not sympathetic, but in terms of fulfilling the character. I
don't judge the character as an actor; what attracted me to Vincent
was how someone becomes an antisocial person."
a number of times how completely Mann had visualized the world of
Collateral, and how helpful this was to the actors in defining
their characters. "While I was working, Michael would show
me pictures of where Vincent grew up, where he came from, where
his love of jazz comes from." He admires Mann's meticulous
preparation: "A lot of technical work went into the taxicab
scenes; Michael rigged them to record sound within the cabs because
he didn't want to loop it later. As an actor, I found that shooting
in digital really helped, because there weren't any delays for reloading."
Mann jumped in, "With digital, we were able do seventeen to
eighteen 20-minutes takes--three- to four-page scenes, done en masse.
Digital filmmaking affords you a radical amount of control; we could
easily alter the look of a scene, change the colors to what we wanted.
It's like painting."
Mann said that
85% of Collateral was shot digitally. The entire shoot took
only 65 days. Cruise loved the pace, remarking, "You needed
that intensity to keep it going. It was like a plumb line; we just
kept going." Turan asked Mann if he would ever go back to film.
"Sure," Mann replied, "if I'm shooting in the desert
featured a sizable amount of preview footage from Collateral
(the DreamWorks release opens August 6), But the marketing masterstroke
of this event was an extended scene from the last third of the film,
when Vincent goes to a club where one of the targets hangs out.
Some might cavil and say it's a spoiler to show such a pivotal scene
before the movie is out, but the sequence is so elaborately, ingeniously
choreographed that it only leaves one wanting to see the entire
film as soon as possible. It's enough to say it takes place in a
Korean disco crowded with 900 people, and represents an important
part of two character arcs.
Not too long
ago, August meant the dog days of movie exhibition, where product
that was either very specialized or of dubious quality was dumped
in the short window between when the summer blockbusters were playing
out, and the more serious entries of the fall season were yet to
debut. Today, it seems like sheer brilliance on the part of DreamWorks
to open such a high-profile, high-octane thriller just before the
studios' Oscar campaigns start revving into gear.
I, for one,