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Director Michael Mann discusses ''Collateral''

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Director Michael Mann’s crackling new thriller, ”Collateral,” stars Tom Cruise as a hitman with a contract to kill five people and Jamie Foxx as the cab driver who unwillingly transports him on his rounds. After tackling real-life subjects in ”Ali” and ”The Insider,” the director spoke to EW about his return to action flicks. — Ken Tucker

”Collateral” takes place over 10 hours, late one night, with just a few key locations. That creates a very precise, formal challenge.

I wanted to compress time, to imagine the psychological extremes when two lives collide unexpectedly. Small [details] become very important when, for example, you don’t change wardrobe, when the time of day doesn’t change, when the color of night or the cut of a suit becomes crucial.

Yeah, what’s the deal with Cruise’s all-gray look?

That was an intuitive thing — I saw Tom as all steely, and the visual for that was silver hair and a tight gray suit. The man he’s playing is erudite, well read, and [his] sociopathy is total. With Tom, you don’t get what you hear from a lot of movie stars, which is ”Don’t move me out of my range, what I bring to every movie I do.”

Why Foxx?

I saw that [quality of Tom’s] in Jamie on ”In Living Color” — his characters were so vivid. That’s why I went after him for [cornerman] Bundini Brown in ”Ali.” Jamie starts with mimicry, but then he talks about ”putting it into the database,” so he can access a character once he’s got it down.

One of the climactic scenes is in a crowded Korean nightclub, the other in a high-windowed, unlit office. The latter features distinctive-looking, shimmery nighttime visuals. You shot a lot of your 2002 TV series Robbery Homicide Division on high-definition video — did you use that here?

Yeah. One of the first images I had in my head was guys stalking each other as near-silhouettes against the city at night. That could not have been shot on film; the aesthetic does not exist in the photochemical realm — it only exists in high-def video. As for the [filmed] scenes in the club, I had a floor plan the size of a large dining room table and plotted out every single actor’s move and camera position. The choreography of that action, with customers freaking out as Tom shoots the guys after him — there were 600 Korean extras kept in a state of hysteria 12 hours a day. We were all wiped [laughs], but they were terrific.

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