*. I started off having a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against Collateral. The hitman Vince (Tom Cruise) shoots his first victim, which causes him (the guy he shoots) to fall through a window right on to the hood of the cab being driven by Max (Jamie Foxx) that’s parked in the alley outside? As coincidences go, isn’t that a bit silly?
*. After a while though I started to get into the spirit of things. Coincidences like the falling man were going to keep coming, building up to Vince’s final target being Max’s earlier fare, who just happened to leave her business card with him after he made an absurd bet with her that his route would get her to her destination faster. If he loses, there’s no charge! And this is a long taxi ride. No wonder Max isn’t getting ahead in life. And what was he supposed to get if he won the bet anyway? What sort of a bet is that? And sticking with bets, how come the guy who knows everything about Miles Davis didn’t know some basic trivia about his life that Vince did? Come on.
*. In other words, this is a fantasy or dream, all taking place on the weirdly empty streets of L.A. Instead of other action thrillers, it made me think of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Vince is the sort of weirdo who belongs in such a setting: a man with no past or future, given to spouting platitudes about how nothing really matters in life anyway, and nobody cares about anyone or anything. This makes him comfortably indifferent about killing, which he likens to just “taking out the garbage.” Critics praised Cruise for being chilling, but while I did like his performance, I didn’t take Vince seriously for a second.
*. I mean, a better plan, after smashing Max’s cab, would have been to kill Max and get another cab to finish the job with. Cab drivers do get killed by their fares and Vince would have had time to finish his night’s work before the police started putting things together. Vince also wouldn’t have had to deal with any of the hassle of dragging Max around as an unwilling accomplice. But then the dream logic of the film goes into effect. Max later asks why Vince hasn’t killed him and Vince responds that their fates are “intertwined” through a process of “cosmic coincidence.” So there.
*. It’s silly, but somehow it still works. I think in part because of the way the fantasy plays off the look of the movie, not to mention director Michael Mann’s usual Mann-erisms. The music-video interludes and what Will Self called the ubiquity of “cards ‘n’ chords” all fit with the dreamlike flow of the film. As do clichéd moments like Vince’s dangerous-man-not-looking-for-a-good-time walk across the nightclub/disco floor. What was the first movie to do that? Nighthawks? It was before The Terminator anyway.
*. More than Mann’s contribution, however, I credit Cruise and Foxx for a pair of great performances. I really don’t think they had a lot to work with in terms of the script, but Cruise projects a wonderfully bemused sort of professionalism and intelligence, while Foxx (outrageously nominated as Best Supporting Actor by the Academy) takes us on Max’s arc in a way that makes him seem somewhat believable. An arc that concludes in his getting rid of his glasses, showing that Clark Kent has now become Superman. Playing alongside, Mark Ruffalo and Jada Pinkett Smith are both disposable (I would even rate Pinkett Smith annoying) as plot place-fillers. The movie doesn’t have any time or interest in them, and neither did I.
*. So: a violent dream-vision of L.A., put forward with talent in most departments. I honestly had trouble understanding if Cruise was dying at the end or just falling asleep, but I think that might have been the point. He may still be on that train, going around in circles and popping up in sequels or a reboot. That’s the ultimate L.A. metaphor of the dream factory in action.