© 2015 by James Clark
Most crime stories committed to film are suffused with satisfaction that they’ll give the audience technology-based thrills along lines of impressive actors, “Keeping them on the edge of their seats” about how it all will end. They might also factor into the market prediction their having scared the shit out of hard-pressed contemporaries apropos of society becoming an ever more vicious battlefield. What else could an ambitious filmmaker in the “action” field ask for?
If we keep our eyes wide open while watching Michael Mann’s crime story, Collateral (2004), we might surprise ourselves that the abovementioned formula admits of being surpassed a million times over. However, not only the practitioners lend themselves to that dead weight of old timey fun, but also the audience. Departures on the screen from lazy fun can, in the buttery hands of the popcorn inactivists, be readily fixed as akin to Superbowl ads and attributed to the dime-a-dozen charms of movie stars. Our account of the uniqueness of such a film as we have in our face right now depends upon those few viewers who can take to heart its voluminous concentration upon registers of displacement and distress far beyond anything mainstream experience provides. So while Mann would be quite happy to bank the funds coming from customers who twist his work beyond recognition (the DVD supplement fascinatingly contributing to the confusion)—I recall overhearing a viewer in an art museum getting clear that the painting in front of him was on the order of “Untilted”—there is about his enterprise a clandestine range of rewards generously out there for those whose assimilative energies have not been beaten down.
Let’s carry our affinities for what Collateral is about by way of, first of all, specifically addressing that tampering with the sightlines having so much to say about levels of ignition in the world at large. The scene most useful for this task prominently involves the very popular actor/singer, Jamie Foxx, in the role of Max, a taxi driver whose cab and person have been put into a form of enslavement by an all-night fare, Vincent (played by the likewise very popular matinee idol, Tom Cruise, about whom some of us might twig on to the thought that he is the American Alain Delon). The action comes to us as a cumulation of sorts of a multiplicity of challenges which Steely Vince—a hit man with a slew of targets to bullseye before the night is gone and who requires chauffeuring amidst the vast road systems of LA—presents to a law-abiding Max frequently on the verge of a breakdown. During a momentary escape from custody the driver with questionable drive disposes of—from a pedestrian bridge over a highway very similar to one we had seen Delon stressfully occupying in Paris some time before, in a picture called, Le Samourai (1967)—a leather-bound case containing an easily replaced laptop and a not easily replaced USB key revealing the appearance and place to be found of the remaining targets that night. On catching up with him, Vincent (snarling into the mild-mannered Californian’s face, “Let’s see what else you can do…”) directs Max to the lair of the drug kingpin who had involved himself in a large retainer with Vincent’s employer for the sake of having disposed of all the witnesses of a federal Department of Justice trial slated for the morning of the game-changing rampage. Not wanting to mar the anonymity keystone of his profit centre (and unable to face the embarrassment of allowing the loss of the key) he orders the mutineer he somehow can’t resist inducing into high stakes to pose as the killer and effect a renewed key. “If I don’t pull it off?” an anxious Max moots into a void. “They’ll kill you,” Vincent declares by way of reply and by way of drawing away even further his mole from an LA softness. (Near the outset of their brief but almost endless partnership Vince had denounced that city for its “sprawled out” geography and sprawled out attitude [perhaps favouring a more tightly knit and more user-friendly place like Paris] citing a dude who rode public transit for hours, propping up a corpse next to him with no one noticing. Correspondingly he quickly nails the driver—who calls the City “home” and calls his job just temporary until he gets going with running a limo service—by a one-move checkmate. “How long have you been on this temporary job?”/ “Twelve years.”/ “Twelve years isn’t temporary, Max.”)
It is Max’s display of sensibility during his forced increase of involvement in deadly action which tells the tale. There are of course the banal “suspenseful” facts of securing equipment here. But as with all of Mann’s crime sagas, crimes (successful or unsuccessful) against the status quo undergo an eclipse by the real drama of crimes (be they completed or averted) against nature itself. As we are about to strategically upload, the initial situation serves up a sweetheart of a really well-grounded African-American (Max) being interrupted in his wholesomeness by a cold-blooded nut case. This being an offering by Mann, however, by the time when the salt of the earth is about to taste the salsa a fascinating metamorphosis is already underway; and this scene comprises a culmination vividly broaching an astonishing departure from orthodox verities. Vince, he of the hard stare (now an audacious candidature with a view to Vincent van Gogh—at the setback on the bridge, the play of red tail lights creates streams of blood-red light along the side of his face and into his mouth), sends his reluctant servant, seemingly lacking any traces of killer instinct, into battle with the prod, “You’ve got ten minutes. At 10:01 I go to the hospital and execute your mother on my way out of town.” That bit of shock treatment stems from a jag where Max disconcertingly pleads to be spared from the minefield of the El Rodeo club where drug lord and defendant, Felix (a cat to Max’s mouse?), presides over the kind of court he likes.
Max’s panic attack is extensive but not a second too long to inject the audience with the shredded emotional carnality being brought forward for consideration. (A point to notice during the drive over to Felix’s Washington Boulevard headquarters [a touch of contesting founding energies filling the air] is a response to Vincent’s ragging him, “Limos…”: “Don’t start.” The remainder of the conflict does not often show Max to be so steadily self-assertive. Vince adds, “I’m not the one lying to my mother.” Max then says too much: “She hears what she wants to hear. I don’t disillusion her…”) “I can’t do this! I can’t!” the would-be mover and shaker—now seeming much more shaker than mover—cries out with clenched teeth. Vince, striking, as so often, the right tone, rallies him with, “What are you telling me? Sure you can.” He injects a bit of vinegar into the tonic, with, “Just take comfort in knowing you never had a choice.” Earlier a seemingly irreversible panic had staked out the inconsistent Max’s emotive-dynamic frontier. After the first kill that had landed on his windshield Max was a quivering mess, losing track of his managing the car. The passenger mocks, “Lady Macbeth, we’re sitting here and the light’s green…” Max, hardly able to breathe, protests in squalls of weakness tracing all the way to El Rodeo (and don’t think for a moment that all the cowboy hats at the Tex-Mex showcase have nothing to do with the fedora of le samourai), “No, no, no!” Vincent calmly, almost inaudibly, remarks, by way of riposte (stops involving starts), “I told you we had stops to make…” “It ain’t my job!” the bamboozled journeyman protests. “Now it is…” the inadvertent talent scout declares. The cabbie with the inspirational photo in his visor recalling the tropical island of Giuliana in Antonioni’s Red Desert (so meaningful to the interpersonal guts of Le Samourai), rather didactically remonstrates, “You don’t get it! I mean it! I’m not up for this!” Vince, like the cop, Vince, pushing the envelope and staging a peculiar dialogue with an adversary—a master criminal– in Mann’s Heat (1995), for all his indifference to suffering, reaches out to Max, and in his presence we see that he is easily as alert to Max’s efficacy as a fellow sentient fighter as he is to him as a prop for this moment of a lucrative career. “Hey, hey, you’re stressed [“Yes I am”], keep breathing. Are you breathing? [“Shit! Yes!”] Shit happens. We gotta improvise. Adapt. Darwin. I Ching… Whatever… We gotta roll with it.” On those traces of stability (along with a discovery mere blocks away from El Rodeo, that they share a childhood of parental indifference to their efforts) a very uncertain Max presents himself to the bouncers, fumblingly gaining access in announcing himself as Vincent. One thing that strikes us, in following Max’s uncomfortable progress through the land of mustangs and many jolts, is that he is the only black amidst the very large crowd of fun seekers. This would be a jolt to the putative mainstreamer (our first look at whom comes, after a spate of crossword puzzle, amidst macho, fractious Latinos and a hermetically sealed away workplace); and it would be another step clear toward the lone wolf driving him crazy. On reaching the banquette where Javier Bardem fills out the factor of Felix, he’s greeted with the vaguely intimidating observation, “I thought you’d be taller.” Max shrinks even further in whispering out the news that the USB key has gone missing, a gambit that incites the quixotic drug tycoon to frame his displeasure with a rambling account of a Santa’s helper who covers bad little children, those who were not saying their prayers. Felix hypothesizes that if that hireling, named Black Beard, had lost his key to locating the pests, Santa would be “fuckin’ furious.” Perhaps the tiny-tot loopiness of Felix’s patter is an ingredient of the hangdog cabbie (first with difficulty and then with delight) cutting across the whole kiddie-cowboy-show scene with, “I think you should tell the guy behind me to put his gun away before I take it and beat his piss ass for him.” He begins to establish eye contact with palace guards and the garrulous king, adding that he had to dispose of the recording device to resolve a “tail” that was bearing down. Then he reminds Felix of how much energy he has already expended “to protect your paso doble ass… Do you think I enjoy coming in here? But, hey, shit happens. Gotta roll with it. Adapt. Darwin. I Ching.” Felix asks, “Can you finish?” And Max (beating a path to maximum [Hou Hsiao Hsien’s “full house,” in Goodbye South, Goodbye]) channels the guy he has nothing good to say about. “In six years when have I not?” A new key is in play (Max goes so far as to give Felix a 35% discount), he strides through the once-frightening precinct as if it were as buoying as that island locale and, after swaggering to the cab, he holds up the assignment for Vincent to see, as if he’d been kicking ass for years. (The soundtrack, as it does several times in the ups and downs of this venture, goes to power chords to obviate more casual fare.) The tectonic event just described intrinsically—and again about to be fully described extrinsically—could only be discounted by a paso doble bullfight poseur and ballroom sleepwalker and sleep talker like Felix.
The tale of the renewed USB technology—beginning with a target to be found at his club of choice named Fever and including a tail directed by Felix to kill “Vincent” if he falters—manages to increase the fever of the action and at the same time discount the bloodletting due to the now-in-the-open precedence of the matter of faltering. The term “Collateral” covering this extraordinary exertion pertains to a range of interlocking phenomena which activate as yet hardly noticed dimensions of the fever weighing down upon not only Max but Vincent. First of all there is the collateral damage of homicide mounting by the minute as a not at all troubling concomitant to Vincent’s platinum cash flow and his exercising an intuition that, as we have seen before in Mann’s reckoning outside the box, other people can be readily disposed of because they boil down to being, like Felix, utterly insubstantial. The corpse of Vincent’s first erasure of the night crashes down from his fourth story window due to his having been near that fixture when the exterminator directed heavy fire his way. At this point Max staunchly, or, rather, feverishly maintains that something beyond physics is happening, while Vincent describes the event in the coldest terms. “You killed him!” Max exclaims, to which his acquaintance corrects, “No, I shot him. The bullets killed him.” The high-paying fare covers the revelation that the night work was not going to be a moment to remember with pleasure with, “Max, 6 billion people on the planet and you’re getting bent out of shape about one fat guy?” Max, still (and perhaps forever) in his liberal cliché mode, scolds, “You just take out the garbage.” “Something like that,” Vincent replies (giving us a clear sense that whatever pop comes into his life does not derive from the nuts and bolts of his work), the timbre of his voice far more steady than that of Max’s. Later on, approaching the final score, after having racked up a mountain of nonentities at a rather listless Fever (including Felix’s tail and a number of cops who had been lethargically and garrulously trying to figure out what was going on), Max reproves the heavy hitter for killing a cop back at the previous stop who was attempting to move him out of harm’s way. “What are you?” His strangest of partners replies, “Indifferent.” But the whole story is far more complex than that. Nor is his astronomical rationale (right after a near thing in being outgunned but not out-skilled at Fever), about the hundreds of millions of galaxies, up to giving carte blanche to seeing the individual as inconsequential. (The wider apparatus being ultimately, and paradoxically, in the service of disclosing just how crucial human sensibility is to all those galaxies.)
At the core of the deployment of “collateral” is the sense of a repository of strength lending support to an associate liable to be faltering in face of an obligation. We have already had a taste of the remarkable support obtaining for Max from out of Vincent’s credo of devil-may-care improvisation, rolling with it. A second riveting moment of this effect (for those fully conscious) occurs on the ride along a near-deserted artery and cut-off (toward Fever) where the magic of Max’s rising to the possibility of large-scale change changes the tone in the cab from nightmare to rich communion. Vince, till then hardly the chatty type (setting him in relief against Heat’s Vince), pipes up, “You should pick up the phone and call that lady friend [the fare directly preceding Vincent, whose positive response to his generous solicitude gave him reason to hope he’d see her again, he being so smitten that he must have referred to his windfall in some way]. Life is short… One day and it’s gone. If you and I make it out of this world [tonight], I think you should call her. That’s what I think…” Soon they’re at a light [no more Lady Macbeth] and, severally, two coyotes amble across the path. Cruise and Foxx perfectly transmit the strange importance which this incursion represents. Their eyes complete the ongoing migration away from resentment and self-evasion, showing instead a sense of having been visited by creatures for whom treading an abyss is not a useful figure of speech and integrity in face of the horror and the beauty is not a matter of debate. As this event which silences them rolls along, a country/rock song (far more elemental than the muzak at El Rodeo) directs the spectators in the cab toward their obligation to others, an obligation far from that liberal-humanist lodestone to noisily praise or despise.
“Once upon a time I was of the mind
To lay your burden down
And leave you where you stood
And you believed I could
You’d seen it done before.
I could read your thoughts…
And now all that is gone
Over with and done—never to return.
I can tell you why
People die alone.
I can tell you I’m
A shadow on the sun.
Staring at the loss
Looking for a cause
And never really sure
Nothing but a hole
To live without a soul
And nothing to be learned…”
There is beautifully crafted dramatic irony in Vince’s providing the preamble to easing up on foibles. His specialty has been to drag Max out of a doctrinal, prescriptive miasma and to have him feel the heady tang of odds both ridiculous and liberating. Max’s various statements of outrage toward Vincent’s savaging a humanitarian mission have had, to this point, no effect for the sake of a collateral process in reserve for Vincent. You would have had a hard time detecting any motive in the latter to accept largesse along lines of giving people a break. But such a motion does reveal itself when carefully scrutinized. Right in the opening moments of their link, when Max refuses to elaborate on his big dream, Vincent rather surprisingly, in retrospect, puts the best possible spin on the big deal—“You’re one of those guys that do instead of talk. Cool.” After the mess-up of Max’s cab and scant communication with the office, the dispatcher intervenes and tears strips off of him, going on to insist, “You’re payin’” for the damages. Vincent could just as well have stayed out of that; but, in the wake of his chauffeur’s registering (over and above the knee-jerk protestations) a carnal distress impressively elemental he feels some protective obligation over and above securing a reliable driver for the night’s haul. After Max’s pitiful response, “It was an accident” and the colleague’s handing him “You’re liable,” Vince, who (as the cops after a while still cluelessly come to see) has probably murdered more than a thousand top-flight bodyguards and hardened criminals over his 6 years touching upon insufferably bad form on an international scale, nearly kills the sedentary talker by phone alone—the brio of his vocabulary and vocal timbre devolving from a curious attachment to his short-term partner. “Tell him to stick the cab up his fat ass… I’m a labor lawyer and you will hear from me. You know your insurance covers it [fast retreat from the field general]. You’re an asshole. I’m going to have to stick this yellow cab up your ass.” The chastened dispatcher does pop up again, to report to Max that his mother is upset about his having failed to make his nightly visit to her hospital bed. Rather than regard such a manoeuvre as out of the question, Vincent, whose murder of witness #3, a jazzman, at a table they all shared discussing improv and Miles Davis had left Max stunned, is glad to soak up some more of that tenderness. The Cruise patina thrills Max’s Mom—she scolds her son for bringing in a flowering plant “that will just wilt and die”; but when she hears that Vincent has bought it, she beams and exclaims, “They’re beautiful!”—and the son complains that it’s rude of her to talk to Vince about him and his great career serving celebrities with his fleet of limos in such a way as to suggest he isn’t in the building. Distant glamor riding roughshod over reliable inexpressivity, Vince goes on to further charm the invalid who looks pretty frisky for some kind of cripple, “I like to think of myself as his friend.” It is then that Max comes to life, somewhat, and races away with Vincent’s bag, an event creating the makings of a new man.
But that slide away, on the part of the hit man, from rock-solid mastery of his métier involves his activating a more comprehensive métier. And, strangely enough for such an up-to-speed risk-taker, this manifestation of mutual collateral is even more harsh and deadly than his chosen line of work.
The dramatic and thematically rich tonality of the aftermath of the coyotes entails over-the-top melodrama. The shooting at Fever is feverish to a fault. The strains of “Shadow on the Sun” are engulfed by Fever’s less than inspired music and dancing and a less than inspired police force and FBI unit that thud in turn into the mix. Vincent and Max make their way to the witness embedded there, surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards; and Vince proceeds to kill, by hand gun and knife about a dozen defenders and the witness. The vision of the specialist propped on his back and blasting to devastating effect gives us some misgivings that our trader in collateral needs, at the very least, a longish vacation. Then he kills the young cop drawing Max away from a “friendship” as perishable as his limousine concern, and that is the catalyst for an even more questionable episode. Though Vince claims, rather feebly, “You’re alive. I saved you. Do I get any thanks? No,” Max cannot let go of the picking off of a target so gratuitously. But as the verbal sniping at each other proceeds, we realize that Vincent’s aim was not gratuitous. The Teflon tiger sneers, “I should have saved him for the sake of his kids?” “What’s wrong with that?” Max counters. He adds, “Why didn’t you kill me?” Vincent’s rather garbled, vaguely embarrassed explanation still manages to open a remarkable area of surety. “Cause you’re good… Say it’s cosmic coincidence…”
Fever takes over right to the end, ditching for good the prospect of balance and amity for the uneasy riders. Vince’s realization that cosmic coincidence rapidly came and left leads to his slamming Max for lacking the guts to make waves. “Someday my dream will come… It never will. It didn’t happen because you were never going to do it anyway… sitting there watching Daytime TV… It’s all turned around in you… What the fuck are you doing, still driving a cab?” (Max’s departure from the sense of the killer’s having something positive to offer does in fact occur the moment when the cop risks and loses his life; but, getting back into the cab en route to the final stop, the LA phrase master issues forth a harangue in the same spirit as Vincent’s just remarked sour grapes. [Driving, at the film’s outset, the stressed Prosecutor of the trial in the spotlight—who happens to be the last stop—the humanitarian counsels her, “You need to get to your unified self…”] “What was divin’ ya? What was ya thinkin’? I think you’re low, way low… Like one of those institutionalized rape guys…” [An Okla touch from way back at Thief].)
Stung by the would-be friend’s indirectly but clearly calling him a coward [in the wake of a trace of hitherto unknown courage], Max begins to access the don’t-care-if-I-live-or die ethos of previous Mann film protagonists, notably Thief’s Frank. He mutters, “It’s all took down…” The cab accelerates. Vince orders, “Slow down.” And Max tells himself, “What does it matter, anyway?” Growling and slurring, “Badass…Twilight Zone shit… the sociopath in my back seat,” he rounds out his prosecutor’s denunciation with, “You know what? There’s one thing I gotta thank you for. Until now I never looked at it that way!” Vincent has his gun pointed at Max’s head but all that elicits is, “Go ahead, shoot me! Go on, shoot me, killer!” At a turn he must have known he couldn’t negotiate at those speeds, Max rolls the put-upon vehicle. Something else he proves he can’t negotiate, from out of a rhetorical register akin to that of Okla, the jailbird moralist, is the very complex thrust of ecstatic contingency he has gobbled on the run (the way he’d gobbled his carbs-heavy fast food while unwittingly waiting for the first corpse, spreading the so-called nourishment all over the front seat and prompting a cop, having pulled him over due to a now-dangerous windshield, to ask, “What’s this? A food-fight?”)
The final episode, after, first Vincent, and then Max, scramble out of the wreckage and, with one-track resolve, when only crosscurrents avoid absurdity, round out the adventure in less than sublime ways, constitutes one of Mann’s essays in tonal distress reaching far down to the guts of the players, a cinematic gift surprisingly not so different from those heart-rending impasses to be seen in the films of Yasujiro Ozu and Hou Hsiao Hsien. On Vincent’s lap top amidst the overturned taxi, Max notices (situational melodrama a bigger threat here than that of a gas explosion) that the USB key he had had one of his finest moments with now shows the beautiful prosecutor he gained such lovely (but perfunctory) approval from before hitting the (sort of) jackpot with Vince. The implausibility of this linkage (the precedent of Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur putting in a visit) is but the brief prelude to the self-styled devil-may-care rescuing her from Vincent, who had never been surpassed. (Strangely enough, she’s hardly a witness—Vincent having killed the fourth and final co-operator at Fever; but Felix would have included her in the cull as an ongoing adversary.) The tippy-toe in the dark at the Federal Justice Department tower and then the scurrying on hands and knees (the “on all fours” being so reprehensible to Bob Le Flambeur) there and also on a subway train are just slightly bilious in the style of a Disney spooky “young adults” flick, though the materiality of the settings and the play of light do keep in effect vestiges of the hard and rich climb out there for someone to bring off with real conviction. But this shift does the trick in taking the concrete action out of the game and holding us a long while in the course of possibly deducing that it is the shortfall of both Vincent and Max’s doing justice to the truly wild, which we carry in our hearts, which this film confidently places amongst the huge pile-up that is mainstream consideration. The narrative does leave us with Vincent (another of those corpses sitting in the Metro likely to be not well noticed) succumbing to gunshot wounds inflicted by Max at the lady’s office where she was doing her usual eve-of-the-trial all-night prep. It also leaves us with a mercifully silent Max beholding his difficult partner with apposite distress.
Collateral does come to us with another design feature lightly alluded to in the course of our inquiry. Though put aside till now, it is indispensible for any serious engagement of what this largely-unsuspected-to-be-masterpiece is up to. Both Mann and his cinematic compass, Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), take the idea of “movies” to a far more fervid (distinct from but related to fevered) elevation than the world of cinema in general would recognize. Mann’s improvisation upon his guide’s dynamics pertains to his both very American and yet in specifics very non-American authoritative release of the sizzle of roadways, especially at night with vehicles lit and launching startling worlds of interactive motion. Such kinetic sheen, however, traces back to distinguished, eerily elemental sensual presences of protagonists. Collateral has afforded itself of Melville’s hit-man sage, Le Samourai (1967), in order to sharply elucidate the dubious overtures of Vincent by means of a likewise poised handsomeness in the figure of Jef, played by Alain Delon, a paragon of harmonic facial features which lend themselves to the transmission of uncanny depths. Mann suits up matinee idol, Tom Cruise, in a perfectly tailored grey suit to increase the affinity. And he puts into play a killer likewise unimpressed by the general run and well aware his composure puts to shame the grab bag of shaky aspirants to the just. Melville’s stickler/ace, however, veers toward absorption in the form of a rather abstract self-adoration to the point of being readily duped by colleagues. There is a memorable moment when Jef is denied payment and then shot (not fatally) on a pedestrian overpass with a busy highway below. Almost exactly that kind of structure is the locale where Vincent catches up with Max tossing his USB key away. But whereas Jef staggers home and suffers in the style of Joan of Arc before her fatal episode, Vincent quickly recoups, and then some, in putting Max out there as a candidate for “cosmic coincidence.” That Max was a user of a photo of a beautiful island devolves to the Red Desert factor of Le Samourai; and more particularly it plunges straight into the campaign of tolerance and even pleasure in being caught up with entities very hard not to hate. Max’s correct incredulity that Vincent kills people who have done him no harm recalls the black jazz pianist who regards Jef as an alien—she got that right; but from his perspective she and her ilk would be aliens as well (creatures almost impossible to respect)—for caring for large sums of money deriving from being untroubled about ending a life (her reflex finding the latter sacrosanct; his take denying that—both being on sound enough, but not thoroughgoing, grounds). Max shows no enthusiasm for that improvisational essence of jazz which Vincent reflects upon with gusto (notwithstanding his presence at a jazz club being dictated by his assignment to kill the owner/bandleader/witness). Max’s dull and peevish resort to dumping on jazz as a profit centre in decline is very important regarding his less than sterling sensibility. In face of a ballad, he mutters a smart-ass, “I thought this was jazz…” Vincent patiently replies, “Soft melody…Behind the notes…” On drilling the jazz boss with a silencing fixture he gently lowers his head to the table around which they had been enthusing about the late great Miles Davis who had long ago sat in on the house band, a day for the host to remember till his dying day, which happened to be that day, and a soul mate far more viable than the prissy populist driving him around. After the corpse dropping in upon the tidy taxi, Vince relishes saying, “You no longer have the cleanest cab in La La Land…” The carriage trade lounge pianist in whom Jef sees traces of potential marches, like Max, to the tempo and timbre of a safely popular repertoire.
The survivors of the spate of justice being overturned, Max and the woman to whom, earlier that long night, he had handed over his island snap and who was touched in receiving it in the register of daytime TV, come across to us as (luke-) warm-hearted torch-bearers of that 21st century status quo (practitioners of sweetness with cesspool guts). At the early stages, from within his hermetically sealed and spotless workplace, Max found on his playlist not only sitcom pop but also Bach to assure him that traditional verities will prevail. Vincent showed him another kind of truth and justice, but who would bet on an unmusical day-dreamer and a workaholic careerist to do anything about that? Is it a final touch of black magic from Mann to suggest that maybe that’s the best we can do? Or is there a catch to such a dreary thesis/surmise, a surreal antithesis which puts its money on the likes of Vincent and Jef—flawed precursors to something really new?