Killing people is what Vincent (Tom Cruise) does for a living. And in Collateral, he's working overtime. An assassin on a flying visit to Los Angeles, he forces a cabbie called Max (Jamie Foxx) to drive him from hit to hit. The pair play out a battle of wills and wits; the go-getting cold-blooded killer and all-talk everyman influencing each other as the bodies pile up, in this slick, stylish thriller from Heat director Michael Mann.
The beautifully-shot LA we see here is a dark, dangerous, compelling place - tinged with every hue of grey and blue, matching the prowling presence of its star. Cruise, hair flecked grey, is obviously meant to be wolfish, but his character is perhaps closest to a Great White Shark: killing is nothing personal, it's just what he does.
"FUNNY WITHOUT BEING FLIPPANT"
"You killed him!" exclaims Max over a body once the first job goes down. "No, I shot him," is Vincent's rational reply. "The bullets and the fall killed him." It's a great dark laugh - one of several in Stuart Beattie's script, which manages to be funny without being flippant, giving Vincent wicked one-liners without turning him to a cartoon. For despite (or perhaps because of) its high concept conceit (being cabbie to a killer), Collateral could easily have been just another action movie.
Here, though, there are ideas, even if the survival-of-the-fittest, do-or-die theme is eventually rather one note. It isn't the only thing that's obvious, with the amusing, exceptional first half undermined a touch when things Get Serious and race towards the expertly executed - but somewhat mechanical - Tom as The Terminator conclusion. Still, for Vincent's sharp-witted command of the cab and the echoes of The Third Man and Heat, Collateral is well worth targeting.