Back in 2012 (holy shit how is that 9 years ago already?) one of my friends told me to watch Collateral because she loved the movie and thought I would too. All I remember is watching it and thinking, “I guess that was okay? But not too impressive, I don’t think?”. When I messaged her about what I thought she was pretty annoyed, not gonna lie haha. She started dissecting all the different aspects of the film, the philosophical angles and what each character was about and how they lived their lives. I was an immature college kid at the time and probably felt embarrassed more than anything else that some of these themes had gone straight over my head. So instead of acknowledging that I had completely missed the point of the movie I dug my heels in and stood my ground (nice going Amir…).
All these years later I was recently reminded of my half-assed opinion and I figured I’d give the movie its proper due and revisit it. So, do I still think it’s an “okay” movie? Or did I finally see it as my friend wanted me to? While it still has some flaws (that I’ll definitely get to) I do think it’s actually a way better movie than I originally gave it credit for. I think the problem with me back in 2012 (besides being a stupid college student) was that when I saw that it was Tom Cruise who was one of the headliners my brain immediately went to “crazy action blockbuster” so when the movie wasn’t that my knee jerk reaction was to be disappointed with it. On my second viewing though, I wasn’t looking for the action but for the nuance instead.
Since I can be a bit of a nitpicky sonofabitch let me get all of that stuff out of the way first. I still think there are definitely a lot of conveniences and leaps in logic throughout the film. I understand that one of the main takeaways as an audience member is to question ourselves and our morals because that’s what Vincent is doing to Max. How is it that a hitman can lecture me about my moral convictions (and in a weird way sometimes even be right about it)? And as stand alone scenes they’re great, but within the greater context of the movie they don’t always necessarily flow.
Vincent and Max on numerous occasions are at each others throats but then immediately in the following scene are waxing philosophically back and forth which just didn’t work for me. Sure, the first time I could see it happening while Max is still in shock and is processing what’s happening around him, but as the movie goes on and their relationship begins to become even more contentious I just didn’t think it made sense that they could fall back into this “reluctant partnership” dynamic to discuss their views on life.
Some other things that bothered me were just a lot of instances of Deus Ex Machina working its magic. The first of which is when the cops who are about to detain Max and Vincent are called off to check on an active shooting (although this may be due to Vincent murdering two thugs earlier?). How Mark Ruffalo (who I completely forgot was in this movie) is this diligent cop with a scary sixth sense and is able to parse out what’s really happening with little to no information. And then we have the final chase sequence from the office building onto the train station cars. Max specifically takes a random route out of the building but Vincent somehow knows to zero in on where he’s headed and even guesses the correct train that he’s hiding in? Also how does Vincent get shot to hell but Max doesn’t? I told you, nitpicking haha.
So what have I come around to? Well, for starters just a general greater appreciation for what the film is as a whole package. Like I mentioned before, back in 2012 I was originally expecting a crazy action blockbuster rather than a cerebral thriller and when I didn’t get what I was expecting I folded my arms and nonchalantly dismissed the movie. This time, however, I was picking up on all the little details and clues as the story unfolded. How Max is such a quick study on all his passengers and can dissect them within seconds. How when Vincent enters his cab he’s able to do the same to Max. And how all the small clever planting of clues lead to payoffs later (Annie leaving her number for Max).
This goes hand in hand with how we’re presented with the rationale and cold viewpoint of Vincent the hitman and the compassionate one of Max. I think one of the most eye opening exchanges is after Vincent’s dispatched his first target and Max is visibly shaken by what’s just happened. Vincent questions him relentlessly, saying that tens of thousands of people are killed in Rwanda so if Max cared so much about people he didn’t know then why didn’t he ever join a host of organizations committing to bettering the world? That his concern for strangers he doesn’t know is fake. This cut deep because most people (myself included) would have a similar response to seeing someone get murdered in front of them but if you asked us why we haven’t made it our life’s pursuit to save humanity we probably wouldn’t have a satisfactory answer. I’ll admit that the first time I watched Collateral I probably did not register this at all.
What’s at the heart of Collateral could not have been conveyed without the great writing in the script. It was one of the first things that caught my attention at the beginning of the movie. The back and forth between Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Max was so engrossing. The conversation flowed naturally while also revealing useful information about Max (he’s incredibly good at what he does and takes pride in it and can read his passengers well, helping him create a human connection). The quality continues with the overall structure of the film and how it slowly builds the tension over time, not only reflecting Max and Vincent’s tenuous relationship but also the progress of the LAPD and FBI as they come closer and closer to catching their hitman suspect.
Some last random thoughts on the movie I want to spit out here as a stream of consciousness are: wow does it have an incredibly understated all star cast. Of course we have the two leads of Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise but also Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem, and even a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo by notorious hitman actor Jason Statham?! The cinematography is great and the handheld work (which normally can get old real fast) actually works for this type of film especially for interior shots of the cab where we feel like we’re sitting there with them and without it feeling claustrophobic. There’s also some intentional comedy that worked (Vincent standing up for Max and talking down his boss) as well as unintentional that was hilarious to me (holy shit, could people in that club just not find the exit during a shootout? The scene was like 5 minutes long and people were still running around like their heads were cutoff for ages).
All things considered I will admit I did not give Collateral the fair shake that it deserved when I first watched it all those years ago. I still have some gripes about the way it went about telling its story but I think that the core that is there is justifiably impressive and powerful. The writing is on point, the performances are amazing, the subject matter cuts deep enough to make me question myself, and the tension ratchets up to a satisfying climax. Sure it has some storytelling conveniences, but with so much good I think it’ll help me overlook some of that.
Studio Binder: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/collateral-movie-review/
Sports World West: http://www.sportsworldwest.com/collateral-poster-2004-tom-cr2004.html