Year – 2004
Running Time – 120 mins
Screen writing Genre – Dude with a problem – Law enforcement problem
Collateral is an often underrated but very slick thriller. It puts Tom Cruise in the role of the bad guy for one of the only times in his career and he excels. This film also provided the breakthrough role for Jamie Foxx who received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Collateral is also one of the first films to be shot exclusively in HD video and the result is a rich visual experience. The film was also nominated for an Oscar for best achievement in editing.
What’s in a name?
Collateral isn’t the strongest name. It doesn’t tell us much about character, setting or the genre, although it does hint at the tone of the film. Much like the film itself the title is aloof. I believe this, along with a lack of promotion, is one of the main reasons it didn’t become a smash at the box office.
What makes it great?
Handled by any other director ‘Collateral’ could have turned into a mess. But Michael Mann handles the story with skill and shows and expert awareness of how to build tension and pace (much like in one of his other films ‘Heat’.)
Aside from two very strong performances from the lead actors and some very stylish visuals it is the sound that really sets the film apart. Both music and sound effects are used perfectly to lull the audience into a false sense of security before smashing the illusion suddenly and violently. If you ever want to know how to use sound to build atmosphere, give a location personality and be an integral part of a film, then this is the movie to study.
Collateral as a Dude with a problem (Law enforcement problem) Movie
A dude with a problem movie has to contain and innocent hero thrust into a life or death battle due to sudden events beyond his control. This fits Collateral perfectly as Jamie Foxx is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (just like another classic dude with a problem), when Tom Cruise gets into his cab. As the tag line says “it started like any other night...”
The sub genre of Law enforcement problem simply covers stories where are dude must deal with a law breaker of some kind. This can range from kidnappers, terrorists trying to take over the Nakatomi Plaza to hit men who need a ride.
Opening Image – A bright, quiet airport where we meet the sinister Vincent. From minute One we already know something sinister is going on. Cut to chaotic LA and Max in the cab company. We get a nice montage of Max sorting out his cab that tells us more about him than any dialogue.
Set-Up – We see Vincent get a package at the airport and meet Max. We also meet Annie and learn that Max has plans for the future. We also get some hints about the big federal case that is going to start the next day. It seems like Max is a smart guy with a high attention for detail (just like Vincent, shadowy reflection alert), but we will learn later that he is mostly all talk. He will have to change the talk into action to survive the night.
B Story – The B story kicks in early and then disappears for a while. It is of course the love story between Annie and Max. It will be Annie who inadvertently leads to Max truly becoming a man of action.
Catalyst – Vincent gets into the back of Max’s cab and tests him on a few routes. Max’s skill at getting to places quickly and knowing the road layout makes Vincent want to keep hold of him.
Theme Stated – Vincent talks to Max about Darwin, evolution and some other things which may seem like nonsense to Max. This reveals our theme which is that you need to adapt and evolve to survive and move forward. In the ultimate irony Vincent will fail to follow his own advice which will lead to his death.
Debate – Should Max take the money and let Vincent hire the cab for the night?
Break into Two – When the body lands on the taxi there is no going back and Max is now suddenly and dramatically thrust into Vincent’s upside down world.
C Story – B story disappeared? Now problem the C story kicks off with the investigation by the lone cop who we (mistakenly), think will end up being Max’s saviour.
Fun and Games – We follow Max and Vincent as they drive around LA and pick off some low level goons. The strange relationship between the two develops as Vincent saves Max in the alley. We also learn Vincent is slick, serious and the perfect hit man…at least on first look.
Midpoint – Max gets the best of Vincent briefly and runs off with the brief case. Max throws the case into the highway and it smashes. This then leads to Vincent sending Max in to meet Felix.
Bad Guys Close In – The cops believing max to be Vincent begin to close in. This culminates in the club shootout at Fever.
All is Lost – The cop who believes Max, is killed by Vincent and now Max he has nowhere to go.
Dark Night of the Soul – Max doesn’t know what to do as the only person who believes him is now dead and talks to Vincent about why he had to kill the cop.
Break into Three – Recovered, Max puts Vincent on the back foot and begins to drive erratically. Max, with new found strength and belief after passing himself off as Vincent, takes full control and rolls the cab.
Finale – Max chases after an injured Vincent to try and save Annie. Vincent keeps making mistakes and shows to us he isn’t some super beast but a man after all. Vincent’s final mistake is on the train where he can’t adapt to his surroundings and shoots directly into the trains doors.
Final image – The train moves off with Vincent’s body on it. Max and Annie walk the away from the station as the sun rises. The world moves on as if nothing has happened. The only thing that has changed in the world is Max.