1941 and Collateral are two very different movies. The first is an ensemble comedy about the chaos that ensued after the United States began its involvement in World War II. The second is a thriller which progresses over the course of one night, in which a taxi driver picks up one very interesting customer. While both are completely different films, they both invite chaos to play an active part in the story.
1941 uses chaos to emphasize the madness that swept across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Filled with a cast of crazy characters, this comedy fizzled in the box office and came $9 million short of turning a profit. After watching a re-release of the film on DVD, I noticed the film seems stretched thin. Due to its numerous sub-plots and drop-in appearances, 1941 loses its audience. Without providing enough time to get to know the characters one never cares what happens to him or her. The scenes are so crammed with people that it feels more like Where’s Waldo and less like watching a movie.
All chaos isn’t bad; take Michael Mann’s Collateral. Its use of chaotic club scenes and violent outbursts alongside cab rides filled with rich conversation cause style to contribute to the viewer’s insight. Tom Cruise’s Vincent is a lone wolf amongst the darkness, fighting for survival. Jamie Fox’s Max is a procrastinating version of the classic everyman. Polar opposites, these two characters smash into each other with verbal and physical bouts that make your head spin and the visual identities they are provided (through the use of color, contrast and framing) emphasize the actors’ outstanding performances.
The creation of noise and confusion during these action sequences causes a closer watch to be paid to the main characters. With such a huge cast and an overzealous use of the wide angle lens, 1941 fails to provide that. The story is lost in the confusion that was purposely put there to frame it. Collateral is a balancing act of up-close, personal revelations and quick, disorienting moments. These events are placed in perfect sequence so that the chaotic movement blends into the background while the characters stand out, just like they’re supposed to.