ramblings from a body of somekind

Collateral (2004)

April 03, 2021

  • movies
  • films

I remember watching this movie when I was a teenager - I think I was just entering 6th form at the time, and I remember it being this really cool film about a hitman doing jobs and something about a taxi driver that felt compelling at the time. The big thing that I could remember was that it was Tom Cruise’s first time playing a “villain” role as he often played the hero in many of the film roles he took on (if I remember correctly, this was before he went all crazy with the scientology stuff and jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch etc). It definitely felt fresh at the time. It appeared on Amazon Prime so I figured I might give it a shot. I wouldn’t say this is a review as much as just random musings scattered across words.

So after watching it last night, it’s kind of surprising how silly I find Collateral given how much I loved it back all those years. It definitely holds up much better in the action department, especially compared to a lot of action movies in more modern times, but the plot is just a tad bit silly.

collateral end
Silly? Moi? No, I am a very serious man who is going to sit here and die very seriously.

I’ll roughly go over the plot point so if you haven’t seen the film, this is spoiler territory, but given that

  1. As of writing this, Collateral is 17 years old
  2. This is written words informing you of the spoiler coming up

I will trust you with that information and leave it in your capable hands whether you want to skip reading this or carry on.

The plot goes that a taxi driver called Max is doing his usual shift calls where he picks up a lady called Annie. They seem to have good chemistry that Max ends up with Annie’s phone number at the end of the shift - he didn’t ask, Annie gave her number to Max, which is a pretty good indicator of how well things went at least. Max then picks up a man named Vincent, takes him to his destination spot with instructions to wait, and then a man drops on the roof of his car.

Vincent “insists” on carrying on the cab route and tells Max to store the dead body in the boot of his cab. From this point onwards up until about halfway through the film is an ongoing tension between Vincent and Max - Vincent needs Max as a mode of transportation to complete his hit list, and Max needs to get away, but unfortunately for him Vincent is well versed in taking care of hostages and doesn’t let Max free that easily.

The second half is Max finding out Vincent’s last hit was the girl he met earlier and his attempts to stop the hit from happening. Meanwhile Detective Fanning (played by Mark Ruffalo, the now infamous actor from the Marvel film series) is investigating these crimes that are taking place all around and trying to get to the bottom of it with his team.

My first little gripe was what was the point of Vincent dropping the man on top of Max’s cab car, fully well knowing that Max would have to drive Vincent around anyway? Cab drivers aren’t well known for their broken windshields. And what was the point of sticking the body in the trunk when the other bodies was left behind? I know it is a deliberate action to add tension points in the movie, which when the film reaches tension between Max and some authority, it is fun to see Max escape his way out of it.

My man’s all about dem subtleties.

Still, throughout the movie Vincent does seem to take at least some care about how he assassinates people (I’m thinking the jazz man who Vincent shoots in the head and then quickly holds to make sure the head doesn’t go bang on the table - this does show that Vincent does at least care about not getting caught to some level). It was one of those things as I watched the movie, I was absorbed, but once the film was over, I thought about it and it made little sense.

With that said, the tension between Vincent’s and Max’s character is enjoyable to see, if a bit peculiar. Vincent often asks Max about things about his private life and then speaks his mind - one being that after both Max and Vincent go and see Max’s mum Ida (Vincent insists that they do this to avoid “irregularities” and “suspicion”, said the man trying to convince a nervous wreck to drive around in his cab with a windshield broken by the body of the man Vincent killed).

In the scene with Vincent and Ida, Ida reveals that Max is planning on a limousine company and has been saving up money by working at the taxi company to start up his business. This is confirmed in the opening scene between Max and Annie where Max explains sheepishly that the taxi business isn’t his long term plan, but he does have plans for a limousine company when asked if the taxi business is his fulltime job.

After the visit to Ida, Vincent then feels it’s important to explain to Max that the only reason why he hasn’t started the limousine company is that he never took the initiative to start it up and has been wasting his life away for 12 years at the taxi company at an impasse. Vincent does this a lot - he feels the need to interfere in Max’s life, even at points forcing Max to tell his boss to “shove the yellow cab up his ass”.

Here, let me - a successful murderer - look down upon you - a meek taxi driver - and tell you want to do with your life.

Of course, this isn’t just the movie making a statement at Max, but pointed at potential people at home who are stuck in the same unsatisfactory job for years and years but unwilling to make a shift from their work. While I appreciate the sentiment, maybe I don’t appreciate the sentiment coming from a sociopath who has been trying to convince Max to not get upset over deaths given that “people die every day” and telling him about Rwanda with this exchange:

V: Well, tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody’s killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eye, Max?

M: What?

V: Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Whales, Greenpeace, or something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit.

M: Man, I don’t know any Rwandans.

V: You don’t know the guy in the trunk, either.

I’m pretty sure no Rwandans fell on his car too. To me, it just feels so weird hearing Vincent giving some life advice to Max when he’s completely upended Max’s life in a trail of chaos and murder. “Give it your best” hits a little different when the complete stranger who is telling you this is whittling down seemingly innocent people and you can’t help but be his accomplice and be coerced into doing things that are completely out of your depth - character building via murder. It’s somewhat similar to the structure of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, except nothing died around Ferris Bueller (well, except that Ferrari).

Talking about things that are out of his depth, after an altercation between Max, Vincent, and the almighty briefcase which contains the list, Vincent has to get back his precious - the list. He manages to convince Max to go into the assassin HQ posing as Vincent, as Vincent likes anonymity.

briefcase fans
Here is Vincent with his briefca- oh wait wrong film.

This has to be the silliest thing in this film and the ways it could possibly backfire vs the ways it could succeed is a stupidly high ratio, which is why I think they put this in the film. Sure enough, Max somehow manages to find that part of himself that is able to lie convincingly like a hitman and he gets back that list. However, the head honcho himself says to his crew after Max leaves “if the people are still alive, kill this man” (or at least to that effect). Stick a mental bullet-shaped pin in this as I’ll come back to his later.

As I mentioned earlier, Max eventually finds out that a hit has been taken out on his potentially new date, and decides to try and save Annie. Bear in mind in the film it’s something like 4am or 4:30am, and when Vincent attempts to assassinate her, she is still working on her case. I mean, I know she hinted at the fact that her routine is she leaves things until last minute and then get it sorted, but at four in the morning??? What if she’s late for the courtroom as she’s so sleep-deprived? It’s not even like she’s in her house - she’s still in her work building at 4am!!! And I thought I had problems with blurring work life and home life during COVID - this champ got us all beat nearly two whole decades ago.

As you can probably tell, the attempts on Annie’s life didn’t go so well as a shootout occurs which ends up with Vincent being shot in a train. At this point I’m pretty sure the film wants us to feel sad that this guy is dead on a train and was “only supposed to be doing his job” but with all the chaos this man brings, I could hardly care. Also, remember that bullet shaped pin? What happens to Max and Annie now that their hitman has failed to do his job and Annie walks free? It goes completely unanswered.

With all this said, the actual action makes up for all of the weird plot for me. Tom Cruise, while his character is portrayed in a sympathetic light at times (urgh) does indeed play a villain well and his action scenes are incredibly well skilled. Jamie Foxx plays a man being pushed to his limits so well that you can probably tell from all this rambling who I support the most out of the duo. And Mark Ruffalo! Man, I couldn’t really recognise him that well facially, but as soon as I heard that voice I nearly fell of my seat. He plays a passable detective, but I don’t think he really needs Collateral for his career.

pew pew
Action Man, the greatest hero of them all!

Overall, if you are absolutely bored and you want to see some action, you could do worse than Collateral. If you can take anxiety, you could do a lot better than Collateral (like Good Times which does a better job with a villain and the chaotic choices seem more… reasonable?). Or if you want something a bit more chill but with good action, I’d recommend Heat. But if not, Collateral’s action scenes still hold up today, and it is definitely worth checking out if just for that.

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