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Tom Cruise as Vincent
Jamie Foxx as Max
Jada Pinkett Smith as Annie
Mark Ruffalo as Fanning
Peter Berg as Richard Weidner
Bruce McGill as Pedrosa
Irma P. Hall as Ida
Barry Shabaka Henley as Daniel
Javier Bardem as Felix
Emilio Rivera as Paco
Collateral's premise is simple. A hired killer forces a cab driver to ferry him from hit to hit in a single night of escalating tensions and sudden violence. Within that framework, director Michael Mann creates a gripping and memorable story, a crime film which tends to focus on the details to keep it grounded in reality.
Tom Cruise has a lot of intensity as the killer. He can shift gears from calm to murderous in an instant. Jamie Foxx gets the harder job as the unfortunate taxi driver, but succeeds wonderfully. He creates a charismatic, accessible protagonist, whose desperation fuels the film's suspense.
Faced with such a simple central idea, the script does a fantastic job of keeping its main characters together in a realistic way. The story keeps the audience in suspense as its violence quickly spirals out of control. It takes unexpected turns, and uses sharp dialogue to draw interesting characters.
There are also plenty of laughs. The dialogue hits all the right notes, and allows the audience to find humor in the situations even when the characters don't. But that doesn't make the movie a farce; when the characters face death, it's treated with gravity and poignancy. Violence and death are never regarded in an offhand manner.
The film does't provide much to complain about. There's some slight contrivance with regards to Tom Cruise's final target, but since this gives the story another interesting twist, it's easy to forgive. The FBI agents were perhaps more inept than they should have been. Their scene, which takes place inside a dance club, consists of quick cuts amidst crowds of people, making it somewhat hard to keep track of the characters, and follow them as they move around the room. But even that serves to reinforce the sense of arbitrary chaos the scene tries to create.
There's no deeper meaning beyond the basic homily that life is short and we must make the most of it, but the story needs no more than that. It succeeds on a very broad level, consistently entertaining, moving effortlessly from humor to suspense to action.
Anyone who enjoys an intelligent thriller will enjoy Collateral. It doesn't condescend to the audience, and people should appreciate that. It's well acted, well written, and it looks good. Collateral is a smart movie that's also a crowd pleaser.