Max Durocher (Jamie Foxx) is a cabbie living in L.A. with big dreams of opening his own limo company and catering to rich, important clients at some point. But without the motivation to take the risk and leave his job, he's just wafting through life. He can't even find the courage to call the cute attorney who gave him her card. He's stagnant. Until he picks up one fare that will change his life.Enter Vincent (Tom Cruise). He is the chaotic counterpart to Max's carefully structured world. A jazz aficionado, he preaches Darwinism and improvisation. He's jaded by the city, hates the overpopulation and the filth. Oh yeah, and he also happens to be a hitman for a private military company. And for one night, they find themselves inescapably bound together.This Michael Mann movie features Tom Cruise in his most chillingly evil villain role since Lestat de Lioncourt. It also featured a Cameo by Jason Statham in his role as The Transporter.
This movie provides examples of:
Abusive Parents: Vincent's father was an abusive alcoholic. It can be taken as an attempt of manipulation on Vincent's part to get Max to do his bidding, but Word of God confirms that it was a rare moment of honesty on his part, that he quickly tries to cover up.
All There in the Manual: If you listen to the DVD commentary and the bonus features, you'll find out more about Vincent's background, including where he grew up and the significance of jazz to his character.
Always Night: Plays out over the course of one night - though the sky lightens noticeably at the end.
Book Ends: At the beginning of the film, after Vincent gets into Max's cab, he remarks that he hates LA, and then relates a story about how a normal guy got on the MTA, had a heart attack and died, and then rode the train the rest of the day with no one noticing. At the end, Vincent, mortally wounded, sits down on the MTA and asks Max if anyone will notice his death before dying.
"No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him." "What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?" "You no longer have the cleanest cab in La-La Land. You gotta live with that. Focus on the job. Drive."
Sure. He's depressed so he jumps four stories out of a window onto his head. "Wow, that feels better." Picks himself up. "Now I think I'll go on with the rest of my day."
Death by Irony: Vincent, for all his talk of adapting, I Ching, Darwin - acting as Chaos personified - exclusively uses the Mozambique Drill technique to eliminate his targets, allowing Max to get the better of him in a blind shoot-out.
Deconstructed Trope: The film deconstructs the "loner hitman as cool existential hero" trope, pointing out how sociopathic and hollow such a character would seem when seen from any point of view but his own.
Determinator: Vincent survives a serious 100MPH car crash, gets right up and runs off. Soon afterward he gets shot...in the head... and simply continues to chase after his quarry with only the slightest hit to his accuracy.
Expecting Someone Taller: When meeting Max, posing as Vincent, Felix greets him with the words "I thought you'd be taller". This is even more hilarious if you remember that Tom Cruise's Vincent would be 5'7 to Foxx's 5'9.
Face Death with Dignity: Vincent at the end of the film. After he and Max unload their entire magazines at each other in a blind shoot-out, Vincent attempts to reload, only to drop the new clip. A moment later we realize why, as the camera pulls back to reveal that Vincent has been fatally gut-shot. Rather than try to pick the clip back up to finish the job, he calmly puts away his gun, adjusts his suit, and sits down on a train seat. He waits for Max to come sit across from him before delivering his Last Words, then relaxes silently into death.
Vincent: Hey, Max. A guy gets on the MTA here in LA. Dies. Think anybody will notice?
Faux Affably Evil: Vincent again. He's a vicious, coldblooded killer, but there's something oddly likable about him.
Film Noir: Down to Max being a decent guy pulled into crime (and for a while being quite good as Vincent's sidekick), who then struggles to get out once he gets the big picture. Also, the idea of L.A. At Night being an effective character, itself. And a healthy dose of existentialism to boot.
Max, impersonating Vincent, threatens to take the gun away from Felix's henchman behind him and beat him with it. He does something very similar with a cop later.
The reason Vincent was at Annie's building at the film's outset is that he was researching his final target (Annie, the prosecuting attorney).
Early on, Vincent complains about how much he hates LA, and how impersonal and disconnected everyone is, to the point that he heard a story about a man who died on the MTA, and whose corpse went unnoticed for six hours before anyone realized he was dead. At the end of the film, he dies, alone on a train car, sitting upright and well-dressed, in the wee hours of the morning... where no one is likely to find him for hours.
Freudian Excuse: Vincent was beaten by his alcoholic father, which helped turned him into the "badass sociopath" we know and love.
Gambit Pile Up: The club shoot-out devolves into one, in which six different factions are involved, all with wildly varying interests. The Feds think Max is Vincent, and try to arrest him while escorting Lin (Vincent's target) safely out of the building. LAPD Detective Ray Fanning knows something is up and that the Feds are acting prematurely, and tries to help Max. Max just wants to get through the whole thing alive, and also prevent Vincent from killing his mother if he fails. Vincent wants to kill Lin, while using Max as a decoy. Lin's security guards are just trying to protect their boss, are startled by the Feds rushing in with guns, and turn the thing into a shooting spree to start with. Felix's guards think Max is Vincent, and will kill him if things go wrong. Vincent comes out on top. The Feds are rendered useless by Lin's bodyguards, Felix's guards are scared off by Vincent, he kills both Lin and his bodyguards, he kills Ray after Ray just escorted Max out of the building, and forces Max to continue driving him to his next target.
Hitman with a Heart: Subverted. Vincent tries to convince Max he's this, saying he only kills bad people, "taking out the garbage." His daddy issues also serve to make him sympathetic. But then, Max learns the people Vincent's killing are witnesses for a case against a drug lord, and Vincent honestly has no qualms with it. We also learn from the cop that his MO is to take a taxi cab driver hostage to drive him around and then fake said driver's "suicide" after the other killings are done, implicating the dead man for the murders.
Hoist by His Own Petard: At the end of the film, Max ends up killing Vincent with the latter's own USP45. In addition, Vincent's attempt to use his signature Mozambique Drill backfires, causing the bullets to hit the steel barrier and thus preventing him from killing Max first.
Hope Spot: About two-thirds of the way through the film, Detective Fanning pulls Max away from a nightclub fire-fight to safety. He believes his story, looks like he's going to help solve all of Max's woes...then is gunned down by Vincent without a pause.
Melee A Quatre: In the nightclub during the fourth hit: Max and Vincent (with Max standing in for Vincent while Vincent follows him) vs some mafiosos (who were sent after 'Vincent' just in case the hit goes wrong) vs the LAPD (who try to both protect the victim and locate Vincent and his supposed partner-in-crime) vs the victim's bodyguards (who start firing at everyone with a gun). It helps that the room is completely cramped with panicking party-goers and the lights go on and off.
Mugged for Disguise: A different take on this; Max is providing cover for Vincent. At first the feds think Max is Vincent, and the hitman has simply picked a cab driver who looks like him, killing the original.
Mugging the Monster: In one scene a couple of thugs steal a briefcase from a ziptied-up Max. Vincent confronts the two, one of whom brandishes a pistol right at him. A few double-taps to the chest and one in the head later, Vincent has his briefcase back.
Nice Guy: Max. Very much so. He's quick to sympathise with people he's just met including Vincent's victims and goes out of his way to treat his customers well, even though driving a cab is "only temporary" for him. That treasured picture of a holiday resort he looks at whenever he needs to relax? He gives it to a stranger he's just met, because she's stressed out over her job and he can tell she needs it. Aw.
Rule of Symbolism: The infamous coyote scene, possibly hinting at the fundamental differences between Vincent and Max. Max stops the car for a simple stray animal, one that couldn't even really be someone's pet, but nonetheless goes out of his way to avoid killing it, even though hitting it would have no legal or physical consequences. Vincent seems more confused then anything else that Max has stopped, and there's a moment of silence between them afterwards, as Vincent seems to finally pick up on what Max just said to him: he really is incapable of comprehending an individual's reasons for doing something. His almost awed gaze at Max's head shows that he simply cannot fathom the reason behind Max's actions.
Sacrificial Lion: Detective Fanning, the only one who believed Max's story and could have ended Vincent's mission without Max himself bloodying his hands.
Samaritan Syndrome: Max's ordeal was just about over, and then he saw that Vincent's last target was Annie. He immediately goes to her rescue.
Shown Their Work: According to the director, Vincent's job as an assassin requires him to get in and out of places without being recognized or remembered, so Tom Cruise prepared for the role by practising making FedEx deliveries to a crowded LA marketplace without being recognised. He also underwent extensive martial arts and weapons training including shooting with live ammunition and how to perform the famous Mozambique Drill.
Spiritual Successor: For Heat as far as mood and setting go. Both are LA centered crime stories and end with the death of one of the two stars at the hands of the other.
Straw Nihilist: Vincent. Or you can see Vincent as an ‹bermensch, he is basically giving Max a vision of what his life could be like if he didn't play it safe all the time.
Vincent: Someday? Someday my dream will come? One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life. Don't you talk to me about murder. All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl,you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab?
Took a Level in Badass: Max, about two thirds through the movie when he has to pretend to be Vincent in front of gangster Felix. You can actually see the exact point in the film where he levels. He then takes another level or two when he deliberately crashes the cab at top speed, and then when he goes to rescue the lawyer. Made even more moving by the fact that Max turns Vincent's Straw Nihilist rhetoric on its head in something between a "World of Cardboard" Speech and a Shut Up, Hannibal! moment just before the crash.