Tom Cruise almost always plays the hero in his films. Even when he’s an anti-hero, like in “Jack Reacher”, we’re still rooting for him to win. Buttered Popcorn can’t wait to dig into one of the rare films where Tom Cruise plays the unequivocal villain. Join us for a look into the wild ride that is Tom Cruise’s 2006 summer offering: Collateral.

Smartass Summary: The story of four people who should have stayed in bed.

Slightly less smartass summary: A nihilist and a moralist walk into a bar…

Ok ok, REAL summary: Man tries to live his life like a normal person, but fate, and a sociopath on a mission, have other plans.

Overall opinion:
Buttered Popcorn loves this movie! It’s a wild ride through a wild night, filled with tension, action, and (believe it or not) humorous moments. The movie starts out in a sneaky way, just a casual little ride through the Los Angeles cityscape.  But when the action hits, it hits with a crash! The suspense, the intensity, and the insights into the philosophy of the two main characters draw us in and keep us excited to see more.

Haven’t seen this movie recently? Fix that, STAT! Click the image below for more information.

Now let’s get started!

***Spoilers beyond this point!***

Fun moments:

Right, we hear you. It’s a movie about a contract killer basically mowing people down all night, while he drags an unwilling cabby along for the ride. But STILL. There are plenty of fun moments in this movie, and those good giggles now and then definitely help to relieve the tension. Here are a few of our favorites.

“My man, you all right?” Max checking on the guy who has just fallen headfirst into his cab (and hasn’t moved an inch since) is just FUNNY. Maybe we have a sick sense of humor? Whatever, sorry not sorry, this is hilarious. And, for follow-up funnies, we are tickled when Vincent comes back to the car looking all too calm, considering the situation.  Max slowly becomes aware that Vincent has done this. Looking shell-shocked, he says, “You killed him?” Vincent’s answer is the best – both funny, and one of our early insights into the man’s character: “No. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.”

“They’re BEAUTIFUL!” One of our favorite scenes takes place in the local hospital. Max’s mother has been harassing his boss, because Max is late for his nightly visit. Vincent decides they’ll go and visit Max’s mother together, and he insists on Max buying her flowers, even though Max says it will be a waste of time. As Max predicted, when his mom sees the flowers, she chastises him for buying something that’s just going to wither and die. Frustrated, Max tells her, “I didn’t buy you the flowers, Mom, he did.” His mother turns to Vincent and says, “You bought my flowers? They’re beautiful!” Oy. We feel your pain, Max. Even though we just finished laughing at your pain really hard. We still feel it.

“How am I supposed to not get excited listening to you try to extort a working man?” Vincent getting Max out of trouble with his dispatcher is PRICELESS. He uses the same skills we can imagine him using to murder people in order to defend Max (and get the dispatcher off the line). It’s fun to watch him coach the mild-mannered Max in exactly how to tell his boss off. It’s also fun to realize that Max is such a kind soul, and so concerned about doing things the right way, that he basically has to be held at gunpoint in order to swear at someone.

And finally. THIS scene. Max has just made a quip about Vincent not wearing a seat belt, after intentionally wrecking the car, and the hardened contract killer actually loses his cool completely and lashes out. But he can’t get enough leverage to actually do any damage, and it’s just FUNNY, people. Funny.

Come on. Tell us that doesn’t remind you of this:

Cool things about this movie:

The Suspense!

Director Michael Mann handles suspense in this movie so well! If you know anything about the movie going in, you could be surprised by the slow beginning. We see Max, an L.A. cab driver, going through his normal routine, and we learn a few things about him: his heightened level of cleanliness, the fact that he doesn’t like dealing with the stress of passengers sniping at each other, and the fact that he’s friendly and well known around the neighborhood. When Max gets his first important passenger of the night, a young lawyer named Annie, we learn that he’s got integrity, too.  He makes a point of getting her to her destination as fast as possible, even though he’d be making more money if he took her the long way.  He’s modest, too, when Annie gives him room to gloat about being right, he just says, “I got lucky with the lights”.

The casual, calm beginning can trick you into thinking that this is going to be a slow movie in general. But as momentum builds, and Vincent (Max’s second important passenger of the night) performs the evening’s first act of mayhem, the movie shocks us with a crash and a bang. Then, the movie manages to pull off another “slow burn” before snapping back to high tension once again.

This is unique, since most suspense/action movies tend to keep the adrenaline pumping almost nonstop.  “Collateral”, on the other hand, manages to lull us into a sense of false security.  There are peaks of high-intensity action and drama, followed by drops in the action that seem to give us a place to relax, but actually leave us edgy, wondering what’s going to happen next. Each peak rises higher than the one before, until we reach the final scenes in the law office (and beyond), and we’re left gripping the edge of our seats – completely invested in the fate of all the principle characters.

The hand of fate:

One of the great things about this movie is watching how four lives become intertwined, through chance meetings and split-second decisions. There are several moments where the film-makers play games with us – showing us little incidents that, if they had gone any other way, or if a person had hesitated by only a few seconds, would have changed the entire direction of the movie.

The most obvious of these moments is when Vincent approaches Max’s cab and Max is too distracted to notice him. If he hadn’t called Vincent back, the entire movie would have been a lot different. Obviously, Max would have had a less eventful evening, but Vincent’s night would have likely gone according to plan. Another cabby might not have challenged Vincent’s nihilistic attitudes. Another cabby might never have dared to destroy Vincent’s work-ups. And another cabby wouldn’t have had a personal attachment to the final name on Vincent’s hit list.

Of all the cabbies in L.A. I get Max: Sigmund Freud meets Dr. Ruth.

Other near-misses we get? Annie and Vincent pass each other in the office building at the beginning of the movie. Vincent, Max and Detective Fanning all end up in the same elevator during Max’s forced visit to his mother.

We’re in this together.  Fates intertwined, cosmic coincidence, all that crap.

These little moments are a wonderful touch, and add to the idea that fate has brought these four people into one another’s sphere for a reason.

Character Development:

We love the way character is revealed in this film! Stuart Beattie (writer), and Michael Mann have created something great – a movie where we care about ALL the main characters. We’d even go so far as to say that we want all the main characters to succeed, which is pretty confusing for us, considering the fact that the motives of one character are diametrically opposed to those of the others. The way that the characters are revealed to us has been masterfully done, and we feel it’s one of the best parts of the movie.

Most of what we need to know about Max, we learn right at the beginning of the movie. Here’s a guy who has cleaned his cab twice within the first five minutes of the film. He is stuck listening to angry people shouting at each other, and while he will probably drive a cab for the rest of his life, he knows how to take a moment to center himself and go on his mini vacation several times a day.

It’s lots of fun to watch this mild-mannered, slightly neurotic, nervous cab driver slowly develope into someone with the guts to stand up to gangsters and assassins.

Vincent is like a labyrinth, letting us in briefly, but lying so readily and confessing the lies with equal readiness, that you’re left guessing if anything he says can be trusted at all. But through his subtle facial expressions, you can glean facts about him despite his desire to hide the truth. You see when his conscience begins to protest, and you can tell when Max has struck a nerve and has probably hit on a truth about Vincent.

We’d like to touch on one great moment in the film that makes profound changes in both characters. Max is on a rising growth arc, moving from a neurotic and (understandably) frightened victim, to becoming a mover in the events around him. Meanwhile, Vincent’s arc is leading him closer and closer toward his humanity.

The major turning point for both of them, in our humble true and correct opinion, is the meting with Daniel at the jazz club. Both Max and Vincent are deeply affected by this particular hit. Max tries to plead on Daniel’s behalf when he realizes that the jazz player is actually another target. And Vincent actually considers letting one of his victims go (or does he?).

This may be the fery first time Vincent has ever felt sympathy or remorse for one of his hits. Up until now, he has shown only professional determination and a “clever” ability to deflect responsibility away from himself.

I didn’t kill him. I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.

Now, Vincent is nearly brought to tears by what he has done. And again, when Max challenges him, and asks if Daniel had gotten the answer to the trivia question right, would Vincent have let him go, Vincent can’t actually answer the question, and it’s clear that this bothers him deeply.

A man whose identity is wrapped up entirely in his profession, and in his ability to do it well, is suddenly questioning the job, his morals, who he is – everything. (Note from Vincent to Max: For the record, I should not get to know people before I kill them.)

Meanwhile, Max, who has been terrified by the situation thus far, has defied Vincent and turned away. He shows no fear when Vincent attacks him and has his hand around Max’s throat – only anger and disgust at the unfairness he has seen. He’s pushed far enough past his natural fear to challenge Vincent – a man who kills with no compunction, and who has no reason to keep Max alive if he ceases to cooperate.

Max has taken a big step toward becoming a hero in his own right, and his boldness only grows from here. Not too long after this, we’ll see Max disrupt Vincent’s plans, face down a criminal king-pin, and challenge Vincent in an even more crucial and deadly confrontation.

And on Vincent’s side, we will see him show a bizarre kind of affection for Max – saving Max’s life when it isn’t strictly necessary, and becoming genuinely hurt when Max doesn’t show his gratitude for the gesture. And we may see a moment where Vincent comes to realize that life (his, Max’s, Annie’s, the cop’s) really does matter.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “I got lucky with the lights.” (Max to Annie and Vincent)
  • “I didn’t kill him.  I shot him.  The bullets and the fall killed him.” (Vince to Max)
  • Max: “This is just temporary while I’m getting some things shaped up. Vincent: “Really?  How long you been driving?”  Max: “Twelve years.”
  • Max: “You said you had to visit some friends!” Vincent: “They’re somebody’s friends.”
  • “Life is short.  Then one day, it’s gone.” (Vincent to Max)
  • “Standard parts that are supposed to be in people, in you… aren’t.” (Max to Vincent)
  • Max: “You just met him once and you kill him, like that?” Vincent: “What, I should only kill people after I get to know them?”
  • “Get with it.  Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars and a speck on one, in a blink – that’s us.  Lost in space.  The cop, you, me – who notices?” (Vincent to Max)
  • “We gotta make the best of it. Improvise. Adapt to the environment. Darwin. Shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.” (Vincent to Max)
  • “Someday? Someday my dream will come?  But one night you’ll wake up and you’ll discover that it never happened.  It’s all turned around on you, and it never will, and suddenly you are old.  Didn’t happen, and it never will, because you were never gonna do it anyway.” (Vincent to Max)

Favorite Character:

Max! Ha, you thought we were going to say Vincent, didn’t you? We love Tom Cruise, that’s for sure, but Vincent is just plain terrifying! If we saw him on the streets, you can be sure your lovely hosts would back away quickly from that guy, post haste!  Max, on the other hand, is a real live hero, and we love him for it! Here’s a few great things about Max:

  • He’s strong. We may not notice his strength at first glance, but as the movie progresses, we see his strength shining through again and again. Over time, we see Max daring Vincent to ask himself the hard questions, we see him telling off the bad guys, and we see him wielding weapons in an effort to save an innocent life.
  • He has integrity. “How many cabbies do you know who get you into an argument to save you money?” Max gently pushes his knowledge of the traffic on Annie, but lets her make the final decision. They place a little friendly bet, and if Annie is right, Max promises her a free ride. It turns out, of course, that Max is right, and Annie gets to her destination faster than she would have if they’d gone surface streets.  He would have made more money going Annie’s route, and he would probably have gotten a decent tip for not arguing with her in the first place, but he had a chance to help, and he did so. This same tendency carries on through the movie.
  • He’s intelligent. We first see his intelligence and his perception, when he talks to Annie at the beginning of the movie and asks how she likes being a lawyer. “What are you, psychic?” she asks. “A little bit.” He explains how he deduced that she was a lawyer, and says, “Anyway,
    a man gets into my cab with a sword, I figure he’s a sushi chef.” He took what he saw, and made an intelligent judgment based on observations that others might miss – that’s some Sherlock behavior, and we love it!
  • He’s really good at his job. Max knows the ins and outs of his job better than anyone around. Even in a complete panic, he can tell Vincent that it will take “seventeen minutes” to get from their location to the next stop. He’s never “lucky with the lights”, he’s got everything about his night driving down to a science. In fact, it’s one of the things Max has in common with Vincent, and it’s one of the things that makes us admire him so. So he’s “just” a cab driver!  He’s the best damn cab driver you’ll ever meet, and that’s awesome. So awesome, in fact, that Vincent refuses to kill him, even when he causes trouble – “Because you’re good. We’re in this together.”

Behind the Scenes Trivia:

  • In order to prepare for the role of an assassin that could go anywhere and not be noticed, the director had Tom Cruise practice delivering FedEx packages in a crowded mall. Not only did Tom deliver the package without attracting undue attention, but he had a conversation with a mall patron without ever being found out.
  • Jamie Foxx underwent cab driver training to prepare for his role.
  • “Collateral” was originally written to take place in Manhattan. Michael Mann changed the location to Los Angeles. (We’re glad he did!)
  • Jada Pinkett Smith spent an entire day shadowing a female prosecuting attorney in preparation for her role.
  • Tom Cruise underwent rigorous weapons training, including training with a former SAS officer, to prepare for his role as Vincent. Michael Mann and Mark Ruffalo also went through rigorous weapons training in preparation for this film – Ruffalo, so that he would look believable carrying a gun (though Det. Fanning never fire his weapon during the film), and Mann, so that he would understand properly how to direct action sequences involving firearms.


Here are some pics we liked! We capped them ourselves!

Pretty little lawyer
Put your hands down! No, seriously…
Getting the job done.
“You are SCREWING with my work!”
The hunter.
The hunted.
Sympathy for the devil.

Watchability level: HIGH!
Buttered Popcorn recommends you watch this movie! It’s intense, exciting, and engrossing. You WILL come to root for the good guys, and even some of the bad guys! And you’ll even come away thinking about the meaning of life, and about whether there’s something that you should be doing today, rather than waiting for a psychopath to tell you that one day it might be too late for you to kick start that dream of yours.

Re-watchability level: HIGH!
“Collateral” has a great surprise at the end – the fact that Max is acquainted with Vincent’s last target. Watching again with this knowledge in mind is great!  Looking out for little places where the major characters cross paths is fun, too. And of course, Max and Vincent debating philosophy in this tense and unusual situation is magnificent. It’s worth it to go back through and listen to the two of them talk about the meaning of life, while Vincent is “indifferently” trying to destroy it, and Max is emotionally trying to save it.

Final Verdict: Collateral is INTENSE! Intense is good!
So! Melt that butter, pop that popcorn, and prepare to have yourself a hard-hitting, soul-searching, heart-pounding good time!

2 thoughts on “Collateral”

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