- Michael Mann
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, August 24, 2004
The story has Max (Jamie Foxx), an L.A. taxi driver, driving around town, doing his job. He’s the main character for all we care, as the story introduces him at first, and centers on him mostly, even though soon another character will take first chair, but always through Max. A couple of seemingly irrelevant rides are presented at first, one of which turns out interesting when the passenger, an attractive, smart district attorney (Jada Pinkett Smith), befriends Max, and shares with him a profound conversation, after which she gives him her card. Right after that, Max picks up another passenger: Vincent (Tom Cruise), a wise-cracking visitor in town, who’s there to close a one-night deal, and wishes to hire Max as his personal driver for the next few hours. Max is reluctant at first, but $600 do the job. Soon, however, it turns out Vincent’s agenda is far more serious than Max expected: He’s in town to kill five people. Unable to escape from Vincent’s clutches, Max finds himself talking to the man, philosophizing about life, and coping with his own crude reality.
There were many things from the get-go that jumped to my eyes like the most implausible elements imaginable in a situation like this. However, pretty soon afterwards (every time), I was fascinated by the relationship between Vincent and Max, and intrigued by what was going on. The film kept me wondering what was going to happen next, and how a story like this could end without falling towards cliché, but satisfying at the same time. The whole process was the same: choking with implausibility, but full of valuable elements, and a true sense of excitement and anguish, as only a good thriller can manage. The final sequence, which involves another character, is certainly on the cliché territory, but there was no other way to finish a story like this, and I loved Mann for pulling it off successfully anyhow.
Aside from Cruise and Foxx, few performers astound, as a result of the little time the script grants them. It’s good because the claustrophobic effect Mann gives us in increasing doses works better when we focus mostly on the taxi, but I couldn’t get enough of Mark Ruffalo as a detective, and certainly Jada Pinkett Smith in her own juicy role. Other short performances with great flavor are provided by Javier Bardem as Vincent’s employer and Irma P. Hall as Max’s mother, who freshens up the film right on time.
The character development is strong on Max’s side, and inexistent on Vincent’s. Vincent is a psychopath, blinded by his conviction, and secure enough to philosophize about life from his point of view without a doubt that he’s absolutely right. Max is full of insecurities, frustrations, and unaccomplished dreams, and the experience with Vincent changes him for good. Foxx is amazing as Max, both as a frightened cab driver and as a courageous everyman hero. Scenes where he borrows lines and attitudes from Vincent are hilarious, but mostly the result of his actions is poignant, and that, along with Mann’s visual style (accompanied brilliantly by a low-key James Newton Howard score), are the most valuable aspects of the film.
To wrap up, I’ll go back to Cruise. It’s great to see him back in form in a film unpretentious enough to not focus on making his character the main attraction whatever it takes. Cruise manages to portray a cool, believable villain, and scenes like the nightclub killing and the subway chase are tense and exhilarating mostly on his account. The jazz-loving, existential-speaking Vincent is a superficial but memorable character, with good lines and fine moments, and I’m glad Cruise did it so well.
“No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.”
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