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The cab driver is Max, played by Jamie Foxx. His cab is immaculate. His sense of direction is flawless. The fare is Vincent, played by Tom Cruise. His business suit is immaculate. His attention to detail is flawless. Both men are very good at what they do. Over the course of one night in L.A., Vincent hires Max to drive him to five business appointments. What is Vincent's business? He's a contract killer. Once Max discovers this, the real fun begins!
What I liked most about Collateral was how the uneasy partnership between Max and Vincent unfolds. Max is an honorable man who, though he finds himself forced into helping Vincent make his lethal rounds, is also determined to do everything he can to prevent the killings. Vincent operates on a different level of honor, one that drives him to complete his assignments successfully, no matter what or who may get in the way. Max and Vincent share deeper complexities, as well. They are both intelligent men whose lives, for one reason or another, have not turned out as they had once imagined. Max, perhaps unrealistically, still finds comfort in embracing his well-worn dreams. Vincent, however, has resigned himself to life's harshest realities, becoming cold and unfeeling in the process. The rapport and resulting bond between the two characters, both so different and yet so alike, is pure cinematic gold.
Collateral is directed by Michael Mann. Mann has directed a variety of films, including Ali, The Insider, Heat, and Last of the Mohicans. However, he is probably still best known as writer and executive producer of the hit 1980's television series, Miami Vice. With Collateral, Mann displays a real gift for showcasing locations around Los Angeles, the vivid beauty of the urban landscape providing a stark contrast to the seamy ugliness of Vincent's profession and the severity of Max's desperate situation.
As for acting, you would think the big story would be Tom Cruise playing a heavy. On the contrary, the big story is funny man Jamie Foxx as a leading hero-type! Foxx owns Collateral, effortlessly turning in a performance that holds up against the mighty Cruise. In fact, if Foxx ever decides to forgo the comedies he's been doing in favor of action thrillers, well, all I can say is that Jada Pinkett Smith's husband had better watch out. That's right Big Willie, I'm talking about you! Add to this a great supporting performance from Mark Ruffalo as a cop on Vincent's trail, and you've got the makings of a classic crime flick.
So, here I am thinking, "Wow, this is one of the best movies I've seen in a long, long time...", that is, until the revelation that Vincent's final victim would be the film's script! To my utter amazement, Collateral ends with a big ol' Hollywood chase sequence. And to top things off, Tom Cruise's 'Vincent' is so unbelievably super-human during this third act that I half expected him to end up with glowing red eyes and a titanium endo-skeleton! Aaagh!!! So much for character development. Why do they keep ending movies like this??? Oh, yeah... right. God forbid the studio suits ever risk over-estimating the intelligence of the moviegoing public. Just color me box-office green.
Anyway, despite the premature death of a near-brilliant crime-genre screenplay, Collateral is still a wildly entertaining ride. Such a shame though, that the meter stops running before it reaches its destination.
Directed By: Michael Mann
Written By: Stuart Beattie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo
MPAA: Rated R for violence and language.