Some thoughts on: Michael Mann’s ‘Collateral’ (2004)

Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise in Collatteral

I rather like it when things are this juvenile. I guess it’s the first of his films where he’s not a credited writer (though undoubtedly he had some hand in it). Mann nudges it towards his own space by making everything a half point more extreme than it quite needed to be.

Like Foxx’s character, he’s gotta start out the movie as some schlubby guy, but here he’s painfully, achingly pathetic. Like he ain’t shit, his dream ain’t shit, even the little picture postcard that he keeps under his visor to stare at when the world gets a little too much is tawdry and cheap in it’s own miserable way.

Then Jada Pinkett Smith enters and the man turns it on and it’s clear quite immediately that his small sad life is a matter of choice. It’s charming, the chemistry the two share is winning, and it’s less about the flirtation of the thing than what it means for two people to allow themselves to be vulnerable around each other.

He offers up his livelihood to her, and she in return offers conversation. Before too long they’re sharing their insecurities because they really don’t seem to have anybody else in their life who will listen. For the opening of a hitman thriller it’s really intoxicating because then Tom Cruise gets to enter the car and be this detached sociopathic assassin. The way that he models dysfunction is brought into all the more stark contrast.

We usually like watching these sorta people. They’re in command and control with cool jobs, and the skills to pull them off. When we get to the first hit, him in his nice suit, calling locations off a very early 2000s laptop, it’s such a tease that we stay in the taxi the whole time. And then doubly so when we realise the hit was just on some guy watching TV in his shitty LA apartment.

Being a hitman isn’t fun or cool, it’s work. And what this guy does to make his work fun is drag along unsuspecting taxi drivers to torment. I guess one of my things with Mann’s movies is that his philosophy tends to come across very sophomoric, and here the guy getting all these lines is a self important shithead who goes around ruining people’s days.

Max’s ultimate validation comes in the form of a direct refutation of the sorta dirtbag nihilism that this man has been espousing the entire running time. Guy who comes into his car spouting off about men dying on the transit — considering it what places him above the city that he’s being ferried around — finds himself in the same position, only then realising that the unasked question was who that guy was in the first place.

There’s the sorta running arc that maybe Cruise’s Vincent is important in toughening up Foxx’s Max, and sure maybe he gets the guy to take on a more confident posture, start actually fending for himself. But he progresses beyond that scene with Javier Bardem where he’s just parroting back to lines that he’s heard before, and starts to construct a notion of heroism that is deftly interpersonal.

There’s the scene with his mom, where they develop an unspoken agreement that the shifty man in the suit needs dealing with. The scene where he oh so briefly meets slimeball looking cop Mark Ruffalo and the two find power in their ability to protect each other, even if Vincent is still a couple steps ahead at that point.

After they’ve actually escaped the office in the final chase of the film, the leads are faced with a decision. ‘No! That leads to the streets.’ Foxx shouts as they make their way underground to the car park and MTA. The streets of LA are characterised here as terrifying nowhere places. Uninhabitable. The taxi and the gorgeous digital cinematography that allows the streets to stretch on infinitely through the smog and haze seem to support this.

They are Vincent’s domain, a place for a terrifying and empty man to live while everyone else concerns themselves with destinations. It’s no wonder that the man can’t survive an encounter with public transport.

I’m watching the films of Michael Mann alongside the Blank Check podcast, check them out if you’ve been enjoying these retrospectives. I also try list all the films I watch on letterboxd, so check me out there to catch everything else.

Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise in Colatteral

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