Style and substance.


Collateral might be Michael Mann’s last film that (in my opinion) puts as much emphasis on character as it did style. Vincent (Tom Cruise) plays an assassin who hires unknowing cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) to ferry him from hit to hit. Of course, things go sideways immediately, and we are treated to an oddly effective, funny, and claustrophobic cat-and-mouse game in a cab with a brain.

The story might sound simple, and it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. The banter between Max and Vincent ranges from cool to thoughtful in seconds. There is a surprising amount of depth as Max tries to communicate with a heartless killer.

Mann’s style is all over the place, and at certain points the camera does get a little too obtrusive. However, when the scenes work, they work. Slick shots of the city and nail-bitingly fast action pushes the film forward without giving the audience a lot of time to rest. We are trapped in the cab with the killer, and it seems that everyone else is always two steps behind Vincent as he appears unstoppable.

Cruise and Foxx are both at the top of their games here, and for both of them this movie shows a lot of range. Foxx is surprisingly convincing as a meek and uncertain cabby, and Cruise should play more villains, I think.

The film works best when you allow yourself to get sucked into it (I suppose this is true of all movies). Rewatching it this time, it occurred to me that there are some plot holes (how did they get into Fever so quickly?), but overall, the film is spectacular for the first ¾ of the run time. After that, things seem to get a bit confused.

Minor spoilers ahead.

You have been warned.

The ending of the film disappointed me, and each time I rewatch the movie it pisses me off a little bit more. There are numerous discussion blogs about whether or not the ending makes sense, should have ending in a tragedy, and so on and so forth.

Look. Most Hollywood movies have to have a happy ending. Further, there weren’t a lot of mainstream tragedies in 2004. American audiences have shifted toward the tragic, but Collateral is a little bit before that swing began in earnest. So, fine, Vincent has to die and Max has to get away. It still could have been done better.

Early in the film, Vincent complains that everything is disconnected, we then have a film in which the characters bump into each other constantly. The entire movie is a series of unlikely coincidences that leads everything and everyone to their convergence points. This is interesting! Here, we have an action movie actually talking about a social issue—connectivity of people. Further, the pursuit of dreams and happiness, as well as what it means to be a moral (or self-actualized) person are in full display when Max and Vincent are together.

The two characters must separate in order for Max to be the hero. It is a necessity of the genre that does not make a lot of sense for the script. The film devolves into a dumb action film where what was once grounded in realism is now laughable. I love this movie, but the last 20 or so minutes send the narrative completely off the rails. I do recommend this film despite these flaws. 8.5/10

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