What About It?
There's no question that Michael Mann can make a crime film. The settings, sustained mood, the right focus on the city and skyline, music as a vital part of the setting, these are all staples in his bag of tricks which come through wonderfully here. The highways, helicopters, and palm trees all tell us part of the story. He leaves nothing to chance, at times using LA itself to draw attention to the movement of the characters. Mann is without a doubt a master of his craft.
The difference between Max and Vincent is told in how they see LA. Where Max sees it simply as Home, Vincent sees a place packed with people who can't see each other when they pass on the street. His prophetic story about a man dying on the LA subway tells us what he sees there and also what he sees in life. It's a view well suited for his choice of career.
While the chases and showdowns you expect from an action crime movie are here, the real work is in the characters and how they affect each other. This isn't an action movie but a drama dressed up with action. The car crash for example isn't about the crash as much as it is about the men getting out of the wreckage. You would think that a conscientious cab driver and a hit man would have little to offer each other, but each offers the other something significant which they perhaps didn't know they needed and wouldn't have gotten from anyone else. While it's heavily suggested that Vincent plans to kill max when he's done with his hits, he nonetheless takes a real interest in Max's life. There is something about Max that Vincent appreciates, which begins with realizing (as Annie did,) that he makes a point of being very good at what he does, which Vincent himself does.
His efforts to "help" Max come through, in spite of himself. Vincent sees a very competent man who doesn't insist on his own value. When he threatens Max's dispatcher and forces Max to tell him off, he's clearly making a point. He could easily let Max make up his own story, but he feels strongly that Max shouldn't be talked to that way. We don't know what Vincent's normal behavior is, but we can gather that trying to show a man he's planning to kill soon is not his usual pattern. He has justifications for what he does, but he takes his actions further than reason requires. When Max visits his mother, Vincent has no logical reason to force Max to bring flowers, but does, stating urgently "She carried you in her womb for nine months."
We learn that Vincent's own mother died in childbirth and this visit perhaps affects him profoundly. Vincent can kill a man for stealing his bag without hesitation, yet despite all the trouble he has with Max, he is repeatedly shown as not even considering that option in his case.
Vincent is at a kind of crossroads, possibly before meeting Max. His comment about the man who dies on the subway is perhaps a question he ponders in relation to himself, positioned as he is as the ultimate loner, cut off from everyone, with as anonymous an existence as possible. He paints himself as "indifferent." yet we see that there are things he does care about, like jazz. He admires the improvisation of it, seeing himself as an improviser of the highest order. He includes Max in his musing about it when he says: "Most people, 10 years from now, same job, same place, same routine, everything the same, just keeping it safe, over and over and over. Ten years from now? Man, you don't know where you'll be ten minutes from now." He realizes that he's accurately described Max's existence.
We see that he's genuinely interested in Daniel's story of his one meeting with Miles Davis, which is ultimately another example of one the movies major themes, dreams that you don't make happen. It's possible that we're witnessing another example of Vincent's crisis, when he offers Daniel a chance to get away. We do wonder as Max does, if he would've honored his offer if he had given the answer he wanted, but whether he would've or not, it's telling that he considered it. Max affects Vincent quickly in ways he doesn't realize. Vincent even has the opportunity to stand by and let Max get shot. Ultimately Vincent gets what he wants, "someone to notice" when he dies on the subway.
The change however, goes both ways. Vincent telling him that "twelve years isn't temporary" is perhaps exactly what he needs to hear. Despite his dislike of Vincent, he acknowledges that he's "never looked at it that way." when Vincent says "All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl,you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab? " It bothers him that Max clings to this plan for "someday" when Vincent and Max on some level both know that he isn't treating his plan as a reality, thus ensuring that his cab driving has become his life, like Daniel the jazz man who no doubt, planned to get back to his music but settled for owning a club.
Max gets quite a few reminders of how short life is and we hope that he uses those reminders to put down the payment on the Lincoln Town Car. He at least gives the girl a call, although he had a huge push to do so. And he gets the chance to step outside his comfort zone and "improvise." proving that he's capable of doing so. If he hadn't met Vincent, we could easily see Max dreaming about his limo company forever, "making arrangements" until he accepts that it isn't going to happen and it becomes a "could've been."
It's interesting that of the many parties after Vincent (and Max) that no one can really affect him except Max. The detective who was posed to pull Max out of the situation is shot down as soon as Vincent sees him, as little more than a nuisance, because ultimately everything that happens in the film is what happens between the two men. Everything else is decoration to put them in the places they need to be. Here, that technique is remarkably effective, producing the needed tension to give their story the urgency desired for the two of them to be irrevocably changed in one night.
The acting here is all terrific. Jamie Fox carries his role competently, giving us a completely believable Max as a competent man, who is very good at "bullshitting himself." Mark Ruffalo is very good as well, although his part, intentionally I'm sure, feels unresolved. Jada Pinkett Smith also does wonders with her little screen time, building a believable rapport with Max in minutes, despite the unlikeliness of it on the surface. But Tom Cruise is really what makes the film, his Vincent is such an intricate and fascinating character. I'm not at all a fan of Tom Cruise, but giving credit where it's due, I have to see it's a truly wonderful performance. As despicable as Vincent is, I still felt bad to see him left on the subway.
"Collateral" to me is a movie about the major things that happen as a result of meetings we don't expect to happen. Sometimes we know ourselves so well, that left to our own devices we simply do what we've always done. And while it's the last thing you want, an outside opinion affecting your life may be exactly what you need to make a change happen. Many people have dreams that go unfulfilled, and sometimes it is as simple as buying a Lincoln Town Car, or calling a girl on the phone, but left to your own devices, you'll only ever have what you yourself know is true. Many times that's what kept you where you are in the first place. Vincent's speech nicely sums up a tragedy that happens to people with dreams every day:
"One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life. Don't you talk to me about murder. All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl, you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab? "
Vincent,(Tom Cruise) a serious looking man in sunglasses and a nice suit gets off a plane in Los Angeles and looks warily around while passing through. The crowd of people is presented as blurry except for another serious looking man (Jason Statham) walking towards Vincent. Vincent "accidentally" bumps into the other man, causing both to drop their cases. After checking apologetically to see if the man's alright, the men pick up their bags each picking up the one the other dropped and go on their way.
We then see the inside of a taxi company where Max (Jamie Foxx) is just going on shift. His first fare is an arguing couple. When they get heated, Max flips down the car's visor and looks at a postcard picture of a tropical island. Max stops by a Spanish market gas station for gas and speaks to the owner in Spanish. He picks up his next fare, Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) who gives him directions to her destination, while arguing with someone on her cellphone. Max disagrees on the best route with her, predicting traffic if they use her own suggestion. As he's about to concede and just do as she says, she asks him "Are we taking bets?" He tells her that if he's wrong, the rides free and she agrees. When they reach there in good time, she says "Go ahead and say it." Max downplays it claiming he "got lucky with the lights." She denies this and points out that he was right and she was wrong, remarking that most cab driver's wouldn't have an argument with a fare, to save them money. He makes jokes about it, saying it's not a big deal. Their conversation gets more personal, and she asks him "Take pride in being good at what you do?" This prompts him to tell her that being a cabbie is a temporary thing, while he puts his business, "Island Limo" together, but he adds that he will be the best at what he does. He deduces that she's a lawyer from her personal details, surprising her. She tells him that she's a prosecutor working on a big case. She reveals that she loves her job but gets nervous the night before a big case starts, revealing her stresses and fears. He recommends that she take a vacation, and shares his postcard picture, saying he takes a vacation a dozen times a day. He gives her his picture. Before she leaves she gives him her card suggesting that he give her a call.
Vincent meanwhile is leaving Annie's building. He attempts to get Max's attention, but almost moves on to the next cab on the street. Max notices and yells, telling him he'd be happy to take him. Vincent asks him how long it will take to get where he wants to go. Max replies "seven minutes" prompting Vincent to say "not eight , not six?" He also asks if he gets a free ride if he's wrong. Max tells him he's get an apology, as he already offered his free ride today. Vincent asks who he offered it to and Max says "some girl." to which Vincent responds with "Did you get a date with her?" Max doesn't answer, changing the subject.
Max: First time in L.A.?
Vincent: No. Tell you the truth, whenever I'm here I can't wait to leave. It's too sprawled out, disconnected. You know? That's me. You like it?
Max: It's my home.
Vincent: 17 million people. This has come to be the fifth biggest economy in the world and nobody knows each other. I read about this guy who gets on the MTA here, dies.
Vincent: Six hours he's riding the subway before anybody notices his corpse doing laps around L.A., people on and off sitting next to him. Nobody notices.
Vincent tells him his cab is the cleanest he's ever been in. Vincent asks about his job and Max again points out that it's temporary. "How long you been driving?" Max responds "Twelve years." He declines to get into details, referring to his plans as a business plan. Vincent is impressed that he reached his stop in seven minutes as promised. Max again says "got lucky with the lights." but Vincent shuts him down, saying "yeah sure, you probably know the light schedules too." Vincent then tells Max that he's in real estate, and has five stops to make before heading back to Lax in the morning, suggesting that Max stay with him. Max initially declines, citing regulations. Vincent asks what he makes in a shift. When Max says about $350.00, Vincent offers him $600.00 plus $100.00 to bring him to the airport. Max pulls into an alley to wait for Vincent. He reads a magazine and eats a sandwich, when a body falls on top of his cab, his face landing on the windshield which sends Max scrambling out of the cab. Vincent meets him outside, where Max is still a little shocked.
Max: He, he, he fell on the cab. He fell, he fell from up there on the motherfucking cab. Shit. I think he's dead.
Vincent: Good guess.
Max: You killed him?
Vincent: No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him.
When Max appears to be considering leaving, Vincent pulls his gun and forces Max to help him throw the body in the trunk. They clean the blood off the cab, and Max suggests that Vincent just take the cab. Vincent listen and then offers "You promise not to tell anybody right?" which Max eagerly agrees to, but Vincent the adds, "Get in the fucking car."
After they leave, Detective Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) comes to the dead man's residence, finding a broken window. He calls in and reports a crime scene. Max and Vincent are driving around and Vincent realizes they're sitting at a green light. Max mentions what a mess the cab is now and Vincent says:
Vincent: Lady Macbeth. Leave the seats. The light's green. We're sitting here. You no longer have the cleanest cab in La-La Land. You gotta live with that. Focus on the job. Drive.
Max is flustered. Vincent throws him another address. Max protests again, but Vincent doesn't accept it.
Vincent: Okay, look, here's the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we're into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.
Max: I Ching? What are you talking about, man? You threw a man out of a window.
Vincent: I didn't throw him. He *fell*
Max: Well what did he do to you?
Max: What did he do to *you*?
Vincent: Nothing. I only met him tonight.
Max: You just met him once and you killed him like that?
Vincent: What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?
To make Max feel better, Vincent tells Max that the man was a criminal, which Max says "So you're just taking out the trash?" They soon get pulled over by the police for the cracked windshield. When they ask about the blood on the windshield, Max claims he hit a deer. They insist that the vehicle isn't drivable and they need to impound it, but get another more urgent call before they can start the process. At the next stop Vincent takes the keys and cuffs Max to the wheel. Before getting out he hears Max's dispatcher, saying "you out there you son of a bitch?" Vincent gets back in realizing he has to deal with this as the dispatcher will keep calling. The dispatcher tells Max he got a call from the police about the cab. The dispatcher insists that he's taking the money for damages out of Max's pay. Vincent gets upset with the way the dispatcher talks to Max, and insists that Max tell him off. When Max won't do this, Vincent gets on himself, posing as an attorney, which changes the dispatcher's tone. Vincent goes into the building leaving Max to struggle with the handcuffs. Max yells and hits the horn hoping to get attention. He only succeeds in getting some criminals to notice him. One of them tells him to give up his wallet, although handcuffed he obviously can't reach it. He then steals Vincent's case from the back and walks off. Vincent is back before they get far and kills the two muggers and retrieves the case.
Vincent announces that they're ahead of schedule, and he wants to stop at a jazz club. The police are now investigating the scene of the first murder. Fanning reveals that the murdered man, Ramon, was his informant. His fellow officers tell him that the feds are all over the organization that Ramon worked for. The other officers aren't interested in the crime determining that the feds will take everything away from them anyway, as well as the fact that there is no body. Fanning won't back off though. One officer gets information from an eyewitness who saw a cab at the scene. Discussing cabs, Fanning recalls an older case where a cabbie drove around killing people and then killed himself, which the detective investigating never bought, suspecting that there had been someone else in the cab.
Max and Vincent hit the jazz club, where Vincent tells Max (who isn't a jazz fan) that he really appreciates the improvising. A waitress tells him that the club owner, Daniel is playing trumpet, and Vincent tells her to ask him to let him buy a drink. Daniel (Barry Shabaka Henley) recounts a meeting with Miles Davis. He played with him for twenty minutes and he recounts that Miles said "Cool." which to him meant "You're not ready, but look me up when you are." Vincent then asks "Did you?" and Daniel says no, giving his life story and the reasons he didn't, but thinks of that as the moment of his conception. Vincent then makes a remark revealing why he's really there, surprising Daniel. He offers Daniel the chance to walk away and disappear, if he answers a jazz question right. Daniel gets it wrong however, and Vincent shoots him, with Max watching at the table.
Max starts walking away, and Vincent comes after him hitting him to show him he isn't fooling around. The dispatcher calls again telling Max his mother is calling over and over again. Max reveals that he visits his mother in the hospital every night and Vincent insists they have to go see her to keep people from asking questions. At the hospital, Vincent asks if Max brings flowers. Max says no, but Vincent insists "She carried you in her womb for nine months, if you can buy flowers, buy flowers." Max introduces Vincent as if he's a friend. His mother says of Max "You have to put a gun to his head to get him to do anything." She reveals that she believes Max has a limousine company. Max tries to run away again with Vincent's case. When it becomes apparent that Vincent will catch him he throws the case from an overpass onto the highway. Fanning at the time is visiting the morgue, and discovers, Vincent's recent victims (including the muggers) were all killed with the same bullet pattern.
Vincent gives Max a hard time about lying to his mother. Vincent tells Max about his own mother and father, and questions him again about his limo business telling him that the twelve years (working as a cabbie) isn't temporary. At the next stop, Vincent informs Max that he has to go in and ask for Felix, to get replacement supplies as Max threw his case away. Max is nervous aware that he's going to see a dangerous criminal. Vincent insists that he has no choice. Max claims to be Vincent to get in the door and Felix allows him in.
Fanning goes to see the feds about the Felix's case, and they see Max's cab on one of the surveillance tapes, Fanning noting that the roof is caved in. Felix (Javier Bardem) meeting him says "I thought you'd be taller."
Felix appears upset about the fact that "Vincent" lost his things. He voices his displeasure with a story.
Felix: Do you believe in Santa Claus?
Felix: Nor do I. Nor do I, but my children do. They are still small. But do you know who they like even better than Santa Claus? His helper, Pedro el Negro. Black Peter. There's an old Mexican tale that tells of how Santa Claus got so very busy looking out for the good children that he had to hire some help to look out for the bad children. So he hired Pedro. And Santa Claus gave him a list with all the names of all the bad children. And Pedro would come every night to check them out. And the people, the little kids that were misbehaving, that were not saying their prayers, Pedro would leave a little toy donkey on their window. A little burro. And he would come back, and if the children were still misbehaving, Pedro would take them away, and nobody would ever see them again. Now, if I am being Santa Claus, and you are Pedro, how do you think jolly Santa Claus would feel if one day Pedro came into his office and said, 'I lost the list.' How fucking furious do you think he will get?
Max responds by playing Vincent's character, saying what he thinks he would say:
Max: I think...I think you should tell the guy standing behind me to put his gun away.
Max: I said, I think you should tell him to put the gun down before I rip it out of his hand and beat his bitch-ass to death with it.
Felix agrees to replace the list and his things, but as he leaves Felix instructs his men to go to "Fever" (a nightclub and location of the next intended victim) and kill him if anything else goes wrong.
Fanning and the feds are comparing notes, and watching their secret surveillance they see Max entering Felix's building stating his name is Vincent. They assume that he's the assassin. Fanning doesn't buy it as the Max's background doesn't match. The Fed's assume Max is the assassin and killed the real cab driver already. The feds set out to take Max down and Fanning follows believing that they're wrong.
In the cab, Vincent asks Max if he's going to call the girl that gave him her business card. Max downplay it, but Max says "You should call her. Life is short." They both get distracted when two coyotes cross the street in front of the car in the middle of the city. The feds soon spot the cab, and we see that Felix's men are getting out of their car as well, everybody converging on Fever. Everyone pushes their way though the busy club, although all of them are looking for Max (as Vincent) It's also clear that his target has his own security in the crowd. Vincent makes his way through the crowd disabling security by hand as he makes his way towards the target. The feds spot Lin, the target, and try to reach him to get him out. He also spots Max and tells him to freeze, although he insists he's not Vincent. In the chaos Vincent shoots a man who's about to shoot Max. Security shoots the fed and Max tries to get away. Fanning finds Max and tells him he knows he isn't Vincent and offers to get him out of there. Vincent kills all the guards and his target, and is already outside as Max and Fanning get to the door.
Vincent shoots Fanning and tells Max to get in the car. Max is stunned, and leaving, sideswipes a car. He asks Vincent remarks that he hasn't said thank you for saving his life. Max is angry and asks if he had to kill Fanning.
Max: You're full of shit.
Vincent: I'm full of shit? You're a monument of it. You even bullshitted yourself, all I am is taking out the garbage, killing bad people.
Max: Yeah, well that's what you said.
Vincent: You believed me?
Max: Then what'd they do?
Vincent: How do I know, you know? They all got that 'witness for the prosecution' look to me. Probably some major federal indictment of somebody who majorly does not want to get indicted.
Max: So, that's the reason?
Vincent: That's the why. There's no reason. There's no good reason, there's no bad reason to live or to die.
Max: Then what are you?
Vincent: indifferent. Get with it. Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, in a speck on one in a blink. That's us, lost in space. The cop, you, me... Who notices?
Max offers Vincent his assessment of him, telling him he's alone and missing things that most people have and has no idea what anyone else is thinking. Vincent returns with his own observation:
Vincent: Look in the mirror. Paper towels, clean cab. Limo company some day. How much you got saved?
Max: That ain't any of your business.
Vincent: Someday? Someday my dream will come? One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life. Don't you talk to me about murder. All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl,you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab?
Max offers the reasons why he's still driving cab, while driving way to fast, inspired in an odd way by Vincent's assessment. Vincent pulls a gun to Max's head and tells him to slow down. Max crashes the car telling Vincent "Go fuck yourself." Trying to extricate himself from the wreckage, Vincent dryly remarks, "That was brilliant." Max remarks "You didn't have your seatbelt on?" Vincent takes off and Max looking at the wreckage, sees Annie's picture in Vincent's things, realizing she's the last hit. He takes a gun from the cop, cuffs him to the car, and then heads towards her office. He takes a man's cellphone and tries to call her from the card she gave him. Max has already made it o the building and we see him working his way upstairs. Annie picks up the phone and explains what he knows. Max gets into her office and realizes she isn't there (She's in the law library, two floors up) Max can see Vincent in her office from the parking garage below. He tells her to get out of the building and then tries to get in himself. Annie calls the police, but Vincent kills the power before she can tell them anything. Annie hides in the dark while Vincent searches and Max tries to get in. Vincent finds her and pulls his gun. Max calls out "Let her go." and Vincent says "Why, what are you going to do about it?" Max shoots Vincent and the two of them run, as Max chases them shooting. Max and Annie make it to the subway and duck down. Vincent figures out what they've done and gets on. Max sees him coming through the cars towards them and they move further back. At the next stop, Vincent watches the side to see if they'll come out, although they choose not to. "Vincent comes right up to their car firing into the door. He yells Max! I do this for a living!" the two point their guns at each other, but Vincent drops his replacement clip, and seats himself. Max sits down across from him, seeing the blood all over Vincent's shirt.
Max: We're almost at the next stop.
Vincent: Yeah Max. A guys gets on the MTA here in LA, dies. You think anybody will notice?
Vincent's head slumps down and Max and Annie wait for the stop. Max puts his coat on Annie's shoulders and we see Vincent all alone in the car as it pulls away.