Love him or hate him, Tom Cruise is one of the biggest Hollywood stars currently living and of all time. At 60, his long-awaited sequel Top Gun: Maverick is killing it at the box office with great reviews. The Mission: Impossible movies are still popular. And even the rumors that he would appear as Iron Man in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had audiences bummed when it wasn’t true.
I know there’s a lot of issues with him, especially the Scientology and the way he is rumored to treat film directors and others on set even though he has denied this behavior. Very few celebrities can say they’re still as hot today as they were starting out 40 years earlier. A lot of people say they wished he would branch out and quit doing the action movies and appear in more risky movies like Tropic Thunder and Interview with the Vampire. On this date, Aug. 7, 2004, he made Collateral, which is probably the one time he’s ever really played a cold-hearted bad guy.
His role in Thunder as a media mogul was really for comical effect. He swore like a sailor as Les Grossman but it was a parody of other Hollywood bigwigs with their ugly behaviors, such as Harvey Weinstein, Joel Silver or Scott Rudin. As Lestat in Vampire, he brought some interest to a controversial and violent movie. But I wouldn’t say either character was the villain. Grossman was sleazy. I mean, even his name is representative of his personality. And Lestat showed some tortured soul of an artistocrat stuck in a situation that he wasn’t prepared for so he turned angry and ill-tempered.
His first big role was in Taps as David Shawn, the more militant and gruff military school cadet, who in the climax goes nuts and begins firing on the police and military surrounding the school that is scheduled to be closed down. He just loses it and goes beserk. This role almost cost him his popular role as Joel Goodson, your normal Midwestern teen with raging hormones in Risky Business as the director felt he was wrong for the part. But before you can say, “What the fuck?” Cruise flew in to show Business director Paul Brickman of his range.
Collateral came right after Cruise appeared in The Last Samurai, a title that I feel incorrectly labeled Cruise as the titular character. There was criticism of white-washing as Cruise plays a Civil War vet who finds himself a prisoner in a samurai community before being trained by them. It was a great movie.
But Collateral has Cruise playing Vincent, a professional hitman who lacks much emotion and has no scruples. He’s only concerned with getting his job done by any means necessary. And if he has to kill many unrelated people to accomplish that task then so be it. Vincent arrives in Los Angeles and with his grey/white hair and grey suit, white shirt but not tie looks like just another businessman walking through the airport terminal. He bumps into a man (Jason Statham in a neat cameo) who is carrying the same type of briefcase so they can both drop them and Vincent picking up the other one which will have all the information he needs.
Vincent has no need for anything else. He’s in L.A. to do a job and then to turn around and leave. We also meet Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx), a lowly taxi driver beginning his night shift. Max’s fare Annie Farrell (Jada Pinkett Smith) brings him to an office building where he is almost passed over by Vincent. Time and luck plays a big point in this movie as Max and Annie earlier discuss the best routes to get to the location. She wants him to take one way but he suggests another. If he had gone the way she wanted, he would’ve arrived at the office building later and missed Vincent.
Vincent tells Max about his distaste for L.A. and probably metropolitan cities in general as millions of people live there but no one bothers to recognize each other. Ironically, this is what Vincent hopes. He wants to go through L.A. being unrecognized. Impressed with Max’s navigation and quicker route to his first hit, Vincent offers Max a $600 bonus to be his driver for the night. Max is hesitant but goes along. Max is wanting to start his own limousine business.
But what seems would be just another night turns crazy as a corpse fails from the second floor apartment window on top of the taxi as Max waits in a side alley. Max comes out and reveals himself as a hitman and the dead man is one his targets. They load the corpse in the trunk Vincent forces Max to drive him to his next targets.
Along the way, they are stopped by the LAPD because the window is cracked and part of the taxi is damaged. Vincent is prepared to kill the cops but they talk their way out of it saying they’re on their way to the cab station. And when a manager comes over the radio and tries to tell Max he’s responsible for the damages, Vincent takes the mic and says he’s a U.S. Attorney and reminds them how the company is insured. The U.S. Attorney line is something that is missed on first seeing it but you realize it gives Vincent a good lie considering where he was picked up by Max’s taxi.
Some people might ask, why Vincent doesn’t waste Max? Easy. He needs a driver. He can’t rent a car because that leads a paper trail. He also can’t use public transportation because it’s unreliable. Also, he plans to pin the murders on Max. And who’s to prove that Vincent isn’t a U.S. Attorney especially if someone just heard a voice over a radio. LAPD Det. Ray Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) who shows up at the first target location speaks of a similar incident in which a taxi driver in another state was reported to have killed people. Vincent doesn’t think highly of taxi drivers. It’s easy to get a driver to take you to several locations, shoot him and then take their log sheet.
But Vincent learns he’s underestimated Max. He takes Max to a jazz club for a drink but it so easily turns into another hit in which he has a drink and chats with musician Daniel Baker (Barry Shabaka Henley) that quickly turns bad when Vincent mentions his employer’s name. Initially offering to let Baker live if he correctly answers questions about Miles Davis, Vincent shoots him point blank in the head.
Later they go see Max’s mother, Ida (Irma P. Hall) who’s in the hospital. This is a nice twist to the movie because it gives some humanity to Max rather than making him react to all that’s happening. Max has been lying to his mother and telling her that he owns his own limo service. What’s interesting here is how Ida has been bothering Max to come in but seems almost dismissive when he finally does come in but changes her tone upon seeing Vincent who she mistakes as a business partner. Max comes across as a more complex character as he can’t find himself to tell his mother the truth but she only wants someone to nag at. It shows how Max was so easily to accept Vincent’s offer.
But Max is going to show Vincent what he is capable of when he steals Vincent’s briefcase and throws it over a highway overpass. Now, Vincent forces Max to go to a nightclub to get the information or else he will shoot Ida. This gives Max some more depth as he goes to the nightclub and pretends to be Vincent as he speaks to mobster Felix Reyes-Torrena (Javier Bardem). And Max is easy to sense when the henchmen coming up behind are pulling out their firearms.
Max proves he has some street smarts and courage, something Vincent doesn’t witness which comes into play later when the two finally square off in a showdown on a subway train. Vincent has been able to kill all his targets because they weren’t expecting him but he’s underestimated Max. And if you’ve been any fan of thrillers, you don’t introduce a character in the first act without them become important in the final act as Annie is a U.S. Attorney and the final target.
What I like is how even when this seems a bit too obvious, director Michael Mann still films the scenes of tension as Vincent stalks Annie through the building. Mann used a lot of digital cameras at the time as it was still revolutionary to film in digital. It gives the movie a grainy look along with the night look of L.A. that makes the movie grittier.
Foxx got an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role, but I feel Cruise was snubbed. His role as Vincent might just be one of his best ever. He reminds me of Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West as a person who doesn’t have one shred of decency in his body. How did he get this way? We don’t know. Nor does it matter. It’s been reported to prepare for the role Cruise actually spent some time as a UPS delivery driver ordering packages to prove that people would recognize him. He had long hair, facial hair, sunglasses and a hat.
Cruise hasn’t played a bad guy since as he’s mainly focused on action and sci-fi movie. A year after the movie was released, he did the infamous couch-jumping on Oprah and became a punchline for years. Foxx would later win a Oscar for his role as Ray Charles in Ray. While I feel there’s another great role out there for Cruise rather than hanging off of airplanes and climbing up skyscrapers, it will be hard to match his role here. While actors like playing the villain, there is nothing likeable about Vincent and Cruise shows that.
What do you think? Please comment.