7 Things Great About: Collateral (2004)

Remembering this hitman thriller with a bad guy Tom Cruise.

Collateral is a 2004 thriller about a taxi driver taken hostage by an assassin who demands he drive him to his targets throughout the city.

When you build a career as successful as Tom Cruise has, especially one that is heavily-populated with rogue-ish good-looking hero types, the last thing you might expect is to make him the bad guy, something that many before have tried with mixed results. Cruise pulled off the coupe with critical praise for his performance though audiences, while making the film a minor box office hit, were cool to the actor’s choice. The movie is a moody, dramatic work, and remains one of the more darker roles in his filmography. And while his presence is reason enough to earn this movie acclaim, he’s not the only thing that makes it good. Here’s 7 things great about Collateral.


Okay, Tom Cruise

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

So yes, Cruise is great here and as mentioned, this is an extremely rare villain role for the charismatic actor. While he’s dabbled in dastardly before – does Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia and Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder count? – he of course was Lestat in Interview With A Vampire, though none have been as punch-in-the-gut impactful as Vincent, a cold-blooded killer with a penchant for persuasion. Donning gray hair and a thin beard, he works to dismantle everything we expect about his usual screen presence and delivers a highly-charged and chilling turn as a man on a mission. You might think you know his work well and even think you remember this movie, but watch it again and look closely at how strong he is in the backseat of this thriller. Yeah, it’s that good. Okay, done with him.


Man, is Mann the Man

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

Director Michael Mann, is a visionary filmmaker, and that’s not said lightly. From his groundbreaking roots in television, most especially the jaw-dropping imagery and direction of the hugely popular Miami Vice, he is a master story-teller, using environments, transitions, stillness and movement to craft whole passages of meaning into his movies. In Collateral, it is a love letter to the city of Los Angeles, even as it exposes some harsher truths. Nearly every shot is soaked in style and Mann takes us on a spectacular visual journey from darkened side streets to bustling avenues and everything in-between putting and pointing his lens in the most compelling places. Pay attention to the small ways he uses the camera to express the most seemingly minor of things and you’ll see something startling in every scene. Watch it once for the story, and then again for the experience.


This Moment With Annie

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

Annie, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, is a high-roller lawyer we meet early in the movie when she takes a ride in Max’s (Jamie Foxx) shiny red cab. They quibble a bit about the best route to her destination and then make a bet with the cab fare the prize. As they go, the scene plays out with the dulcet tones of ‘Hands of Time’ by Groove Armada echoing from his car radio and there is this incredible calmness to it that is just so perfect. When they get to her stop, a kind of bond has formed and they spend a few minutes talking over the seat and share some personal fears and we suddenly realize that this isn’t going to be some easy meet cute moment or sexulized for cheap thrills but rather a raw and honest exchange that establishes the heart of one character and sets up a need for the other. It’s brilliant.


Ida … Never Believed He Could Do It

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

Vincent is the next fare after Annie, and impressed by Max’s driving, hires him with big money to take him about the city, where Max rather abruptly learns that Vincent is a hitman. Forced by gunpoint to continue driving, Vincent discovers that Max visits his mother nightly in the hospital, and not wanting to upset his routine and arouse suspicion, demands they go, even buying flowers for the older woman. The scene has a touch of old school charm to it and we see some of the ‘good guy’ Tom Cruise show up layering on a bit light humor, but what we don’t get then but soon do later is why this moment is so important. Vincent needed something over Max’s head to keep him in line and well, now he does. Mrs. Durocher is in the game. It’s a great little twist that begins like comic relief but ends in terror.


Jazz Break

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

One of the best things about Collateral is the misdirection. Time and again we feel it’s going one way, only to have it flipped in another. This moment is where it’s done best when, after a particularly terrifying turn of events have already sent Max into mental chaos, Vincent tells him they are ahead of schedule, offering him to take a break and join him at a jazz bar nearby to relax. Max has no choice, but at the club, the band is cooking and Vincent takes genuine interest in the trumpet player, a musician with extraordinary talent. When the show is over, he invites the player, a man named Daniel (Barry Shabaka Henley in mesmerizing cameo) to sit and share stories and so he does, recalling a time when jazz great Miles Davis stopped by. The scene is gorgeously shot with some spectacular music (a cut from Davis) and we are lulled into the break ourselves, relaxed by the moment that seems exactly what Vincent promised. But we are dead wrong to believe it will last, and boy does it turn fast. It’s spellbinding and … for fans of Davis, even a little educational. But mostly spellbinding.


This Moment With Felix

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

First of all. Hello. Javier Bardem. How great is that already? This was an early English-language appearance for the soon-to-be Academy Award-winning actor and he’s nearly unrecognizable, though there’s no hiding that voice. He plays a Mexican drug cartel boss, the guy Vincent works for despite the two characters never meeting and in this sensational moment, believes Max is Vincent. Without spoiling what amounts to be like, one of the most thrilling moments and crucial character developments in the whole show, it’s a terrifically edited and shot sequence that overlaps two threads of the story as the police investigating the rising body count make a few key observations of their own. Jamie Foxx is downright one of the best damned actors in the business.


Frank and Vincent

Collateral
Collateral, 2004 © DreamWorks Pictures

In 2002, a young action star named Jason Statham burst on the scene in a film called The Transporter about a ridiculously skilled gentleman named Frank Martin who can and will deliver anything anywhere on time, no questions asked. At the very start of Collateral, Vincent is seen arriving in Los Angeles and walking through a crowded LAX terminal with a black satchel when he bumps into a well-dressed man with a well, identical black satchel. It’s none other than Statham and after a quick confirmation that they are both okay, the two pick up the other’s bag and walk away. Statham is not seen again. It’s barely a few seconds of screen time but it’s clearly a sweet nod to Martin and for fan theory crazies (like us) is the stuff of legends.

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