PG Cooper’s Movie of the Month: Collateral

Posted: September 29, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Movie of the Month

Release date: August 5th, 2004

Running time: 120 minutes

Written by: Stuart Beattie, Michael Mann, and Frank Darabont

Directed by: Michael Mann

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Javier Bardem

I’ve been a huge supporter of this film for a very long time. Last December I wrote a list of the top twenty-five films from 2000-2009. In said list, Collateral came in at fifteen. Since then, I’ve seen a lot of great films from that decade and began to wonder how Collateral would hold up. I hadn’t actually seen it in a long time. Walking through the aisles of Wal-Mart, I found the DVD being sold for $10. I immediately picked it up and the next night got to finally watch it again. Well, Collateral definitely holds up and remains one of my favourites, let alone worthy to be the “Movie of the Month.”

The film follows a friendly cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx). Max is a quiet guy. He’s an excellent cabbie who knows the roads better than anybody. He keeps the cleanest cab in the city and he always treats his fare’s well. But one faithful night, he picks up a fare unlike any other he’s ever had. That fare is Vincent (Tom Cruise), I well dressed and charming guy who seems a business man at first. Turns out he’s an assassin, and he’s decided to ride with Max for the night while he takes out his hits.

While the plot is pretty basic, the concept is pretty clever and the execution is beautiful. One of the biggest reasons is the writing. The story is paced well and there is never a dull moment. But more importantly, the dialogue is great. Whether it’s the playful banter between Max and Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) or the intense talk between Max and Vincent, or the more philosophical lines form Vincent, I could listen to these characters speak for hours. A lot of people have got a lot of credit for the film, but I feel screenwriters Stuart Beattie and Frank Darabont have been unfairly ignored. Looking at Beattie’s filmography, he’s written a lot of films since Collateral, but it looks as if he never hit heights so high again. At least he’ll always have this amazing screenplay under his belt.

The film has an awesome cast. Leading the pack is Tom Cruise, as the cold blooded killer Vincent. Tom is a rather dubious celebrity. His bizarre antics in the last few years have got him a lot of negative press. As an actor, he tends to have a reputation as a pretty boy and a good guy. That’s why it’s so shocking to not only see him play a hitman, but to see him play a hitman as brilliantly as he does. To put it blunty, Tom Cruise is freaking badass in this movie. From his look, to his dialogue, to the way he moves. Everything he does, it’s hard to take your eyes of him. And it’s important not to forget Jamie Foxx as Max. The character of Max is a lot less showy than Vincent, which is why it’s surprising that Foxx got as much praise as he did. On top of critical praise, Foxx even received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Foxx plays a character who’s kind of quiet and shy, but actually has a lot going on. He becomes particularly interesting when Vincent starts to breakdown just who Max is and why he is who he is. It’s fascinating to watch, and Foxx’s subtle performance really sells it. What’s even better is as the movie goes on, Max becomes a badass in his own right. Not in a way that feels forced or contrived either, it actually feels very natural.

Michael Mann is known for his large cast epics such as Heat. While Collateral is definitely a more small scale story, it still packs quite the supporting cast. What makes it even more interesting is seeing all the actors in the background and noting what they would go on to do. Mark Ruffalo plays a detecitve investigating the various murders going on in the city that night. While it isn’t a very showy performance, and you couldn’t tell from watching him you’re looking at a future Oscar nominee, but he is quite good and shows what a chameleon he is as an actor. Javier Bardem as a role here as a crime boss who employs Vincent. It’s interesting to watch Bardem in Collateral, a movie with a very memorable villain, when Bardem would go on to play one of the greatest villains in the history of film (Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men) just a few years later. A few other actors have bit parts, such as character actor Bruce McGill and even Jason Statham has a fun little cameo.

The one key person I haven’t really talked about is Michael Mann. As good as all the other elements of the film are, Collateral wouldn’t be half as good if not for the excellent direction from Michael Mann. Mann shot the film using the Viper FilmStream High-Definition Camera, making Collateral the first mainstream film to use such cameras. It was a smart choice, the cinematography is stunning. Sometimes you just can’t help but get lost in the scenery, especially during the scenes at night. It’s baffling to me that this didn’t get an Oscar nomination for cinematography. I usually don’t go out of my way to get Blu Rays over DVDs, but I have to admit, I’m extremely curious to how this looks on the former. The film also features a great score, as well as some excellent source music from Audioslave and Paul Oakenfold. Add on some tight editing, and you have a perfect package on a technical level.

If noting else, the film can be appreciated for the sheer amounts of awesome scenes. There’s the mugging scene near the beginning, the chase from the hospital, the exciting climax, and more. But for me, the scene that steals the show is the club scene. The scene makes good use of a techno song (Ready Steady Go by Paul Oakenfold) that helps drive the scene forward, and is also extremely catchy. There’s a sort of cat and mouse game going between Vincent, his victims, the feds, and the cops. It’s a tense scene, which continues to build as we watch the cops try to sort through the chaos while Vincent starts to take down thugs. The tension reaches a boiling point and eventually the scene turns into an excellent shoot out.

Collateral is a film that almost anyone can enjoy. It’s a top notch crime thriller that appeals to both wide audiences as well as critics. It features great performances, both from it’s principles as well as it’s supporting cast. It’s got a sharp script and is full of stylish direction. While very few some to dislike this film, most don’t love it as much as I do. If you haven’t seen Collateral, than I strongly recommend you do. If you have, chime in your thoughts in the comments.

Rating: A+
“Take comfort in knowing you never had a choice.”


  1. ianthecool says:

    Good review. I remember really liking this film, especially Cruise’s performance. It also had a distinctive visual style which I appreciated.

  2. Jersey says:

    This is one of the movies I never get tired of.
    As you said, the story is pretty simple but wonderfully crafted: the dialogues, the pace, the music, the night… So avocative. Plus Tom Cruise doesn’t look/feel like Tom Cruise, which is a good thing ;) “Drive” reminded me of it.

    Great blog btw, I’ll definitely stick around

  3. […] Collateral is practically made of awesome. The basic premise is great. A cab driver has to drive an assassin around all night. Tom Cruise gives the coolest performance of his career, and one of his best for that matter, as the calculating and badass assassin Vincent. Jamie Foxx is also great as the cab driver tormented by Vincent. Stuart Beattie’s script is excellent, and Michael Mann gives the film a beautiful look. Collateral is one of those films that stays just as good every time I see it, for my full thoughts, click here. […]

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