#ThrowbackThursday – Collateral

Original US release date: August 6, 2004
Production budget: $65,000,000
Worldwide gross: $217,764,291

I know it’s not popular to praise performers once they’ve become hugely famous and successful.  And it’s especially not popular to overlook their quirky real-life choices or behavior that comes from being human – even if nobody is hurt by them in the process.  We’re a society that prides itself on tearing others down and attempting to make them regret succeeding and maybe even existing at all.

But screw that.  Tom Cruise is awesome.

You’ll notice that his new film Jack Reacher: Never Go Back hasn’t appeared in my March to 100.  That’s only because I never got the chance to see the original Jack Reacher.  I’ll try to correct that at some point but, here in its place, we have one of my favorite Tom Cruise films which features what also might be my favorite Tom Cruise performance.  That’s a bold statement because he’s had a lot of great ones.  But there was just something about his intensity and his willingness to play against type as hitman Vincent in Collateral that stuck with me a little more than any of his other roles.

But Collateral is not a one man show.  Sharing the load of a very heavy film is Jamie Foxx, also playing against type as the meek and insecure taxi driver Max.  Interestingly enough, ten years later, he would play another meek and insecure Max in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 when he took on the role of Max Dillon/Electro.  In that film, the performance was over-the-top and at times hard to watch.  In Collateral, it’s much more subtle and believable.  Foxx’s passivity is the perfect compliment to Cruise’s vehemence.

Joining them in a strong supporting turn as attorney Annie is Jada Pinkett-Smith.  Nowadays, she’s hamming it up in “Gotham” but, here, she gives a powerful performance that’s short on screen-time but long on substance.  Mark Ruffalo also pops up as the detective on Vincent’s trail.  Throw in a quick appearance by Javier Bardem and you have a heck of a cast that would count for (and cost) a bit more, today, than it did, twelve years ago.  (Okay, okay.  Jason Statham shows up, too, and blows the one line he has.  Turns out that Paul Bettany was right about him.)

The narrative of Collateral is a simple one: contract killer Vincent holds taxi driver (no Ubers back then, kids!) Max hostage, forcing him to drive around Los Angeles as Vincent completes his hits.  We follow them from one job to the next, learning a bit more about the pair as we go.

It had been a while since I’d watched Collateral.  Admittedly, there are a few bugs that I don’t remember picking up on, the last time I watched it.  The second act drags a bit as the structure becomes a tad repetitive.  The characters remain interesting enough to largely offset that, though.  My main issue with the film is that the biggest story beats all rely on extreme coincidence in order to occur, demanding that the movie rely on more suspension of disbelief than a film that is aiming to be this gritty and realistic should probably be asking.  I really feel like these story knots could have been untied relatively easily and suspect that it comes down more to convenience and time constraints than lack of awareness or ability.  Still, this happens at nearly all of the crucial moments and it did take me out of the story.

But everything else drew me back in.  The performances and characters are deep and complex and believable.  Foxx’s Max, in particular, is especially round, learning, growing, and changing in real time as we watch his life transform around him.  I’ve been a critic of his in the past (besides hating his turn in the aforementioned The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I thought his supremely lauded portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray was more of a great impersonation than a great performance), but here he plays it honestly and brilliantly.  I don’t know much of anything about Jamie Foxx as a real person, but I feel like he somehow relates to Max, in some way.  And, if I’m wrong, that says even more about this performance.

Collateral also provides the rare opportunity to see Tom Cruise as a villain.  He’s still Tom Cruise, so Vincent is a very smooth villain, but it’s a unique role for him, nonetheless.  He unquestionably owns it and seems to have a great time along the way.  And so do we.

Despite falling into a few regrettable trappings, Collateral more than counterbalances them with an intense story and engrossing characters.  It’s easy to cheer for Max while Vincent is a classic love-to-hate villain.  I feel like this film has been largely forgotten over the years but, at the time, it played as one of Michael Mann’s more mainstream, crowd-pleasing pictures.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth discovering for the first time.  Part of the fun is in seeing the cast then and comparing them to where they are, now.  The rest of the fun is in seeing what Max and Vincent do, next.

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