I had deliberately stayed away from any hype surrounding this movie - I'm a fan of both Michael Mann and Tom Cruise, and with this being a hard-hitting crime/hit man type movie I was eager to get the most out of actually watching the film, rather than already being influenced by advertising campaigns and the opinions of others. I placed the DVD into the player, dimmed the lights and settled back hoping to be entertained by a sophisticated movie... and things started well. By trade I'm a Licensed Taxi Driver so the fact that hit man Vincent (Cruise) plays opposite cabbie Max (Jamie Foxx) for pretty much the entire movie meant I had an immediate affinity with proceedings - Max and I have much in common... except I'm less of a wimp! Of course, there are many things about the character of Vincent that I would like to have in common - the cool, calculating nature; the charisma; the intelligence; the good looks - but them's the breaks. Sometimes a movie just feels right, and to begin with I had this feeling towards Collateral - Mann is a classy director, and this class is transferred on-screen. Sadly, things did not pan out as expected...
The story is a simple one - Vincent the hit man has five people to kill in one night, and needs transport. Cue Max, the taxi-driver. Now, Max is as good at his, mundane, job as Vincent is at his, and this is what attracts Max to Vincent - he recognises dedication when he sees it. So, after wafting six One Hundred Dollar bills before the driver as incentive, the two come to an arrangement; Max will transport his fare around Los Angeles throughout the night, and drop him at L.A.X. airport in the morning. Unfortunately for our hapless cabbie things do not go according to plan, and Max is forced to become an unwitting accomplice to Vincent's swift and merciless killing spree. So far so good. Mann's direction is as tight and intricate as we have come to expect with his handling of this type of genre, the characters have a “realness” about them, and Mann's abilities shine through his actor's undoubted talents. But how the story is handled is, in contrast with the performances and stylish mood created on screen, rather simplistic, unrealistic and at odds with Vincent's character in particular. I mean why does Vincent insist on using the taxi when acquiring another vehicle would be clearly less dangerous? Why does he insist on taking Max to the hospital? Why does the final third of the movie become Terminator meets The Bourne Identity? And why, oh why do the cops and FBI agents (as well as a plentiful amount of dedicated criminal security guards) end up being portrayed as incompetent, uncaring idiots? The final twenty minutes or so proves to be the most far-fetched, and when all the classy dialogue and interaction of characters is replaced with almost cartoon-style mayhem at the end of a movie that's what the mind remembers. And that's what I was left with - the potential for something classy had been replaced with a flawed, run of the mill caper that will probably be swiftly forgotten.
At this point in the review I should mention that I have yet to watch the supplemental features, but my feeling is that the movie has been subjected to a number of cuts. I'd like to think that Vincent's character in particular was expanded upon in of a number of scenes that didn't make this DVD release. If that turns out to be the case I would be eager to see a director's cut. If it is merely wishful thinking on my part, then all we'll ever have is this stylish, but inconsistent average movie, which would be a shame - it could, and should, have been better.