Film / Collateral
"Since when is any of this negotiable?"

Okay, look, here's the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we're into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.

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 drifting through life. He can't even find the courage to call the attractive attorney, a fare, who flirted with him and gave him her card. He's stagnant. Until he picks up one fare that will change his life.

Enter Vincent (Tom Cruise), who commandeers Max's taxi. 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, the cabbie and the assassin find themselves inescapably bound together.

This Michael Mann movie features Tom Cruise in his most chillingly evil villain role since Lestat de Lioncourt.

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.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Vincent in the end.
  • Almighty Janitor: Max, a civilian with no firearms training, is able to defeat Vincent, a professional assassin who has already dispatched many cops and armed guards up to this point.
  • 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.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Max evolves into one as the film progresses, in contrast to Straw Nihilist Vincent.
  • Asshole Victim: "You attract attention, you're going to get people killed who didn't need to be." But man, is it hard to feel sorry for those guys...
    • More specifically, when Vincent ties Max to the steering wheel to make sure he doesn't drive away while Vincent takes care of business, Max honks the horn that draws some people to his predictament. Unfortunately they turn out to be muggers who at first don't even *notice* Max is tied to the steering wheel and demand his wallet while holding him at gunpoint and despite no reason still continue to make threats at him as they take his money and Vincent's briefcase. Then Vincent shows up...
  • Badass Driver: Max.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Vincent's gray flannel suit.
  • Black and Nerdy: Also Max.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The briefcase shootout scene.
  • Bluffing the Authorities: One of Vincent's victims falls out of a window onto Max's taxi, causing significant damage. The pair are later pulled over by two officers suspicious of the damage, and Vincent threatens to kill the policemen if Max is unable to talk his way out of the situation. He claims that the damage came from hitting a deer and though the policemen appear skeptical, they receive another call and let him off with a warning.
  • 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.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Combined with Double Tap for Vincent's Signature Move: The Mozambique (or "Failure to Stop") Drill.
  • Broken Heel: Averted. Annie does not remove her heels when she and Max flee from Vincent, and she never trips or falls.
  • Cameo: Jason Statham pops up to deliver the workups on Vincent's targets.
  • The Cartel: Felix, Vincent's employer.
  • Contrived Coincidence: In city of millions, Max just happens to give a taxi ride to a hitman and one of his intended victims on the same night.
    • Justified Trope: Vincent was casing the place where he was going to do his last hit of the night, so he would know the layout and exits and be able to look like he belonged there when it got later. He also very nearly doesn't get into Max's cab at all, as Max was zoning out at the time and called him back.
  • Clock King: Max. Vincent is the exact opposite.
  • Cue the Sun: Plays out over the course of one night - though the sky lightens noticeably at the end.
  • Cut Apart: Vincent is looking for Annie, while she gets a phone call warning her about him. We see him bursting into her office, only to cut and see that she's several floors above.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Vincent.
    "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."
    • Detective Fanning:
    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 as his specific shooting routine only hits the carriage door where as Max's inexpierenced random shots manage to get past the obstruction and hit Vincent.
  • 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 cohesion.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After spending the entire film mocking and tormenting Max, Vincent finds out that there is a lot more to the humble cab driver than he anticipated.
  • Dying Truce: During the climactic gunfight on the train, Max gets off a lucky shot that hits Vincent in the chest. Vincent staggers and takes a seat, and a shocked Max sits across from him, trying to reassure Vincent that the train is almost at the next stop. Vincent smiles and repeats an anecdote he shared earlier in the movie.
    Vincent: Hey, Max. Guy gets on the MTA here in LA, dies. Think anybody will notice?
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: See Rule of Symbolism.
  • 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.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over one night.
  • 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 find himself suddenly fumbling. The camera pulls back to reveal why: He's been fatally shot in the gut and he's starting to bleed out. With the last of his strength, 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • 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.
  • The Gunslinger: Vincent is a type D - Quick Draw. It's even mentioned by one of the actors in the documentary at 3:00.
  • 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.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: This happens to Max at the hospital, courtesy of his mother.
  • Iconic Outfit: Vincent's suit, which has appeared in quite a few video games.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Vincent's reliance on the efficient Mozambique Drill killing tactic allows Max to best him in a blind gunfight through a subway door with two windows and a solid metal center.
    • Vincent asks Max how long he's been doing the job, and if he gets any benefits. Max asks him the exact same thing, in reverse order, when he's about to impersonate Vincent.
  • Karma Houdini: Felix.
  • Lack of Empathy: Vincent, throughout. Although, he does show slight regret after killing Daniel.
  • Last Words: Vincent's final words serve as a Meaningful Echo/Ironic Echo to an anecdote he relates earlier in the film.
    "Hey, Max, a guy gets on the MTA here in LA and dies. Think anybody will notice?"
  • Los Angeles: The setting for the movie; so prominent, it might as well be a character itself
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Vincent in his suit again.
  • 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.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: We can see the beginnings of Vincent's Villainous Breakdown in the fact that he empties the whole magazine of his gun (even having to reload to deliver his signature headshot Coup de Grâce) on Lin, whereas he had been pretty efficiently using the Mozambique Drill beforehand. Also how he kills Detective Fanning, to utterly puncture the Hope Spot.
  • 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.
  • My Beloved Smother: Max's mother, Ida.
  • Never Going Back to Prison: Daniel sold out The Cartel to the police because of this. In his words: "They said I could help them or go back inside. And I'm not going back inside."
  • 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.
  • Not My Driver: The basic concept of the film inverts this trope.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Vincent representing reaction and chaos taken to an extreme, while Max represents an almost obsessive level of order and control. In the end, a balance must be struck.
  • Pet the Dog: Even after Max fatally wounds him, it's pretty clear Vincent could still have simply reloaded his weapon and killed him. He chooses not to and instead merely faces death with dignity, although it may have something to do with Vincent knowing his number's up and not wanting to die completely alone.
  • Police Are Useless: All cops in the film except for Detective Fanning.
  • Private Military Contractors: It's hinted at in the movie and stated outright in the commentary that Vincent works for such a group.
  • Professional Killer: Vincent is an assassin, and quite an evil one at that.
  • Reality Ensues: Vincent is a steely-eyed, cold-blooded killer and a total badass. He still gets killed by a lucky shot from what has to be the most timid man in all of LA.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: It's a blink and you'll miss it moment, but two of the would-be briefcase thieves decide to scram when they approach Max, presumably realizing something was off when his hands were tied to the steering wheel.
  • 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.
    • The director also went through weapons training himself. Officially, it's so he'd know more about how to direct gunplay. There's a good chance he just went "oh, what the heck".
    • The famous "briefcase scene" is a literal example. No editing, no sped-up film or special effects: Tom Cruise really was that fast after weeks of constant weapons training. In fact, he actually beat the time given in the script: 1.39 seconds as opposed to 1.6 seconds.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Max does this to Vincent just before he crashes his cab.
  • Signature Move: Vincent always engages with a rapid Double Tap, sometimes followed by a headshot if his target is still alive.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Both Max and Vincent themselves.
  • The Sociopath: Vincent is described as such in-story. He ticks most of the boxes, but there are glimpses into his personality that does show conflict and maybe smidges of regret for what he does.
  • 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 Übermensch, 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?
  • The Taxi
  • Too Dumb to Live: Played with when it comes to the two muggers. After all, they're both armed and don't know what Vincent is capable of, like the audience does. Then again, demanding money from a man clearly tied to the steering wheel of his car doesn't do them any favors...
    • Not to mention that rather than maintain his distance - which is, y'know, the point of using a firearm - Mugger #1 gets right up in Vincent's face and make it easy for him to slap the gun away and neutralize him. Mugger #2 has his gun jammed so far down the front of his pants that he's still fumbling for it when Vincent switches to him.
  • 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. There's also a less—noticed level when Max takes the briefcase and runs, destroying it, even at the risk of his own life.
  • The Reason You Suck: Max levels up and delivers a blistering one to Vincent right before crashing the car. Max tells him that he couldn't connect with anyone if his life depended on it and that he's like someone who grew up institutionalized without experiencing any normal human interactions at all. Watch Vincent's face during this. It's plain that what Max is saying is hitting him hard and he's barely keeping himself together.
    • Vincent then turns around and smacks Max with an equally brutal one (see above), tearing into him for not having the courage to take any risks and make something of himself, or even call a girl he likes, even comparing Max's voluntary stagnation to "murder". Somewhat bites him in the ass, since it seems to get to Max so much that he shifts gears into "Badass" and deliberately wrecks the cab to halt Vincent's killing spree.
  • The Unfettered: Vincent. Max, on the other hand, is strongest when protecting someone he cares about (even if they just met).
  • Villainous Breakdown: Vincent progresses through one of these over the course of the film. It has it's beginning from the moment he meets Max and they start conversing. Vincent is an amoral, completely self-centered assassin who cares for no one. However, he's also incredibly isolated and walled-off from the rest of humanity, with the resultant loneliness that he'd never admit to, not even to himself. Despite how ruthless he is, it's heartbreaking to realize that Max may be the first person he's had a meaningful, introspective, and honest conversation with in his entire life. In several scenes, you can't help but feel that he's honestly trying to help Max change his life, and is very conflicted over the part of his plan that means killing Max. And after the final shootout with Max, rather than go down swinging Vincent just gives up rather than die alone.
  • White Shirt of Death: Vincent himself at the end.
  • The World's Expert on Getting Killed: While the other cops believe Max is the killer, Detective Fanning doesn't think so, in large part because he's familiar with another case in which a cab driver was suspected of a killing people under questionable circumstances. However, he's killed by Vincent before he gets a chance to prove his case.
  • Wicked Cultured: Vincent has a fairly extensive knowledge of jazz and really good taste in suits.