Max is an average man, your average American man with big ambitions who drives a taxi during the day. He finds that the day is drudging on as usual, a woman arguing with her husband, a few passersby, and still he has little money, and is only a half a foot closer to his dream of owning a limousine company. After a memorable exchange with a pretty passenger, Max’ dreams of breaking free from his work is about to come true when he picks up a white haired older man who makes it worth his while to become his personal chauffeur for the night, little does he know that sometimes wishes can come true as the man he just picked up is a hit man intent on killing everyone on a list and making his deadline and he’s not about to let Max walk away.
An average, blue collar, workaday man finds he’s gotten into a situation larger than he can imagine and has no way out. Hitchcock must be glowing in his grave, and its fodder I’ve attempted to create for years. Such an utterly fate-worthy chain of events linking these two together, and inevitably, as the movie continues, we see, as do the two characters here, that they have a lot more in common than they think. It’s almost stupid to not realize that Michael Mann must have had Hitchcock in mind when the script was being written, because there’s just no other explanation for the story that is so clearly influenced by Hitchcock’s films. Heavily reminiscent of the masterpiece “Strangers on a Train”; two strangers by luck of fate, find themselves in a humongous situation, it’s almost poetic.
The film is pulled off very well from beginning to end establishing the tension which slowly mounds as we start from an all too mundane situation of Max driving his taxi along the streets of LA. The realistic, handheld almost candid digital direction works as Mann portrays LA like Scorsese to New York, with an almost grim, dark, grimy attitude that often looks like a literal waste land void of emotion, and it fits the atmosphere Mann attempts to convey to the audience that will involve these two strangers. Jamie Foxx gives a great and very inspired performance as Max who finds himself in a jam he can’t possibly get out of, and holds his own against Cruise becoming one very fascinating reluctant hero. Max is enough of an interesting character for audiences to learn about him for the first twenty minutes of the film without ever getting bored, and once he’s confronted by Vincent, he becomes even more three- dimensional.
There’s even a really good scene with Jada Pinkett establishes Foxx’ character’s personality and lets Pinkett shine for a few minutes as the two spawn a flirtatious relationship. Cruise with his shaggy white hair, bushy white eyebrows, and menacing and very devilish smile make him a villain not to be forgotten any time soon, and the relationship and interplay here is the equivalent of the two characters in “The Hitcher”, in which they’re constantly testing one another. Cruise exploits and explores a dark side in Foxx’ character that he doesn’t know he had, plus he also helps him come out of his funk he’s been in during his life, while also being able to discover something about himself in the process.
The relationship and interplay between these two characters is electric and dialogue between them is just natural as we witness two very three-dimensional people having a back and forth duel of words while discussing the integrals of right and wrong and murder that really manages to stand out amidst a movie that looks like just another thriller. The screenplay is, dare I say, worthy of Mamet. Mark Ruffalo, who is literally in every independent film I’ve seen, is often a very pleasant presence, again appears as an undercover officer investigating Vincent. The movie can tend to be charismatic, but just ultimately feels flat in the end. For a film so ripe with possibilities to being ripe with tension and atmosphere, Mann never pulls it off nor does he ever milk it for all it’s worth. And overall, the film feels so under-whelming when I expected overwhelming for what the plot entails and what Mann draws for the audience.
With the performances, tight script, and often dark scenery, it was a shame Mann didn’t play it for all it was worth instead of just keeping things down-key with everything else. I was never really on the edge of my seat nor did I ever really want to keep up because it never grabbed me with the story. The film tends to lack the edge and teeth grinding suspense it promises and that’s one of the major downfalls as far as the film goes in terms of being a thriller it’s trying to be. All of the film mounds the tension and suspense which leads to a surprise plot twist halfway through that becomes a very clever throwback to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”, and ultimately the tense climax more than makes up for the lack of suspense and becomes a very surprising and entertaining thriller and is one of Mann’s best. Mann never really improves upon the tension promised at the beginning, but in the end this is a very superior thriller with excellent direction and utterly top-notch performances courtesy of Cruise and Foxx.