A film by Michael Mann
Max (Jamie Foxx) is a Las Angeles cab driver with dreams of something grander for his life. His dream, as he tells various fares, is to own his own luxury limo company: Island Limos. This job of driving a taxi is only temporary, but it is a temporary job that has lasted ten years. Max is a man who does not step out and take risks in his life. Into this mundane existence comes yet another fare, Vincent (Tom Cruise). Vincent offers Max $600 if Max would drive him to five different locations so Vincent can do some business and catch a flight out of town at the end of the day. While this is against his company's regulations, Max accepts. $600 is a lot of money for one night's worth of work.
When Max brings Vincent to his first stop and a few minutes later a dead body lands on top of Max's taxi, followed by Vincent looking not at all upset or surprised, we know that this evening is taking a turn that Max never anticipated. Max accuses Vincent of killing the dead guy, but Vincent coldly replies that "the bullets and the fall killed him." Vincent is a hit man, a paid assassin, and despite Max's protests that this isn't his job, Max will drive Vincent around the city as Vincent kills person after person. He doesn't have a choice, really. Vincent has a gun.
What is fascinating about this movie is how the relationship between Vincent and Max works. Despite his chosen profession, Vincent is civil and cultured. As a character, Vincent comes off as somewhat likeable even though we know he is a bad guy and we have seen him coldly murder. Yet, there is a certain charm to Vincent, and he treats Max well so long as Max goes along with what Vincent wants. Vincent suggests that Max will never improve his lot in life until Max himself takes responsibility and does something about it. There is not a friendship here, but throughout the movie a grudging respect between the two characters build.
This respect does not change the fact that Max is being held hostage while Vincent is committing murder. The viewer can guess in what direction the film is going by the way director Michael Mann ties things together early on in the movie. He makes a couple of connections (which would give away part of the ending if mentioned directly) which are obviously not coincidence. We even learn Vincent's unspoken intent by dialogue said by a detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating that first murder. Nothing is truly random in this movie, and this goes double for the ending. "Collateral" is building to this ending, which I felt was fully appropriate, the entire movie and with the exception of a single scene where Vincent becomes the second coming of the T-1000 from "Terminator 2", everything in "Collateral" works for me. The city itself is a character, giving setting and tone and depth and a sense of place to the film. While the story could have taken place anywhere, the movie would have had a different feel to it.
"Collateral" can be dark and violent, but it is also intelligent and stylish. This sense of style is not to be confused with the typical Hollywood "slickness", but rather it is Michael Mann giving the film its own feel and look that simply "works". The whole film does (excluding that one scene I mentioned), and when put together it is better than its parts, and this includes the fantastic performances by Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.