Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by: Stuart Beattle
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg
Sometimes it’s just not your day, where nonstop nonsense occurs to you with no real end in sight. It can become a recurring nightmare your body refuses to wake up from, which is where the protagonist finds himself in the heart-pumping thriller, Collateral. A wonderful experience, putting one actor in a place we have not seen before and crafting a complicated relationship between a protagonist and antagonist.
Working as a taxi driver in Los Angeles with the hope of possibly owning a limousine company in the future is Max (Jamie Foxx). He knows his way around this city more than anyone, but he gets a surprise patron in Vincent (Tom Cruise) to request a ride. Vincent asks to be dropped off in various locations, which Max finds out means the mysterious man works as a hitman.
The one bad night style of storytelling produces an inherent entertainment value because of the succinctness of the timeline and knowing things will continually get worse. Happy endings come at a premium, but when they do, there’s so much relief by the end of it. Collateral exists to build up a level of tension so thick, it allows the pressure valve to feel all the more satisfying. This tension begins by showing the protagonist and why it would be terrible for him to die.
Max has a dream and he’s humble about everything in life. Some of his characteristics are not explicitly stated, but in the short time we get to see him alone, it becomes evident he has a heart of gold. Getting into this terrifying situation with Vincent immediately puts him in danger and puts us, as the audience, on notice of this looming potential of such a nice person dying before achieving his dreams. This leads us to Vincent, a truly odd person, who has a level of precise focus that could intimidate anyone. His realm of knowledge goes beyond his ability to kill others for money, but his background remains mostly a mystery for the entirety of the feature. What differentiates Vincent from any other hitman in a variety of the other films comes from the moments of genuine humanity he displays throughout the feature. Sure, he’s a cold-blooded killer, but the strange rapport he builds with Max at times becomes heartwarming. A know, a bit weird to say but it becomes a conflicting experience.
Several moments get sprinkled into their relationship, including when Vincent helps Max stand up to his boss, and speaks about the importance of a mother when visiting the latter’s in the hospital. It gave me pause on each of those moments because even with him being a sociopathic killer, he appears to develop an affection for Max. This gets set up in their initial discussion before it becomes evident to the audience and Max that this man is on his way to commit some murders. Even if Vincent puts Max in all of these terrible circumstances, he still protects him and shows moments of care. Truly odd, I know, but it’s what makes Vincent such a fascinating villain to watch. It also does not hurt that this character gets portrayed by an unlikely actor in Tom Cruise.
Much like Jackie Chan, Tom Cruise has lived most of his career taking on the protagonist/hero role. It may come down to image or just the roles he likes to take on, but most films where Tom Cruise can be seen on the cast list, usually finds him being “the good guy.” Collateral becomes the first truly recognizable film where he plays a pure antagonist. Sure, he was a bit of an ass in Magnolia, but every character had those characteristics in the 1999 feature. In this film, he straight up cannot be redeemed because his sole mission throughout the entire story remains killing the five people he has been contracted to put six feet under. Cruise brings such a physicality to the role, which can be seen in the way he famously sprints and how he coordinates the fight sequences. He becomes such a threatening presence, which only makes it more frightening when we know his aggressive attention will eventually turn towards Max. The gray-dyed hair and barely ever sporting a smile, Cruise becomes as unrecognizable as some of his stature can possibly be and he shines with this performance.
Michael Mann knows how to put together action-packed thrillers, and his greatest tendencies shine in this feature. He builds up the intensity to such a high degree because we never learn who the people on Vincent’s list are until he puts a bullet in them. It becomes a wandering journey where at any point, Vincent may take care of his target with no warning. Mann utilizes the script written by Stuart Beattie and crafts such a visual splendor with the crisp dialogue provided. The camera never remains truly calm or static because we see this story through the eyes of Max, who rightfully remains scared for his life for the entirety of this feature. My favorite scene comes when they enter a dance club, where many interested parties converge and you truly see the fighting ability of the mysterious Vincent.
Collateral works on so many entertaining levels, as it sets up a fun premise but continually complicates it with the characters involved. You get swept up into this neverending fare Max has taken on and one way or another, the night will not end well for everyone involved. The details never matter because overall, it becomes about the exhilarating experience brought together by a genius filmmaker and a collection of wonderful actors putting on a show.