As cool as a jazz riff from a tenor sax, this stylish and powerful thriller has it all — consistently absorbing characters, twisty dialogue and an even twistier story, and action that engages the heart as it thumps a little faster.
Max (Jamie Foxx) is a cab driver who begins his shift by wiping off the dashboard and putting his favorite picture on the visor. He takes his job seriously. When an accomplished and beautiful fare (Jada Pinkett Smith as Annie) tries to direct his route, he bets her the price of the trip that his way is faster, and he’s right, down to the minute.
She is impressed with him, and we are, too. He is used to being underestimated. He dreams of a limo company that makes each ride a perfect oasis from stress. But he is as careful in planning his future as he is in planning his routes. Maybe more so. He has had this temporary job for twelve years.
Max’s next fare is a silver-haired man in a gray suit, carrying a briefcase. He offers Max $600 to stay with him all night, through five stops. Max turns him down at first; it’s against the rules. But then he says yes. He takes the fare to his first stop. Vince goes inside while Max waits for him. And then a dead body hits the roof of his cab.
Max has picked up a hit man named Vince (Tom Cruise). Vince’s five stops are people he has been hired to kill. Can Max save any of them? Can he save himself?
When Max asks if Vince killed the man who fell on the car, Vince cooly responds, “No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” Max cannot believe that Vince shot someone he did not even know. “What, I should only kill people after I get to know them?” Now that Max knows what Vince is doing, it’s time for “Plan B.” Vince will have to keep Max very close by to get the job done.
In the long night ahead, Vince and Max will test each other and even weirdly bond a little bit, as Vince, though clearly planning to kill Max at the end of the night, can’t help giving him advice on pursuing his dreams and Max, clearly planning to stop Vince any way he can, can’t help doing his responsible best, even trying to get Vince’s approval. And Vince can’t help trying to teach Max to be more assertive, even though it is in his own interests to keep him compliant.
Director Mann uses a silvery blue pallette and spare, reflective, glass-filled settings to keep the mood as cool as moonlight. Both Pinkett Smith and Ruffalo are endlessly watchable, giving their characters subtlety and context to make us care far out of proportion to their time onscreen.
But this is really about Max and Vince, a sort of buddy movie on crank. One is “indifferent” and one cares very much, attached to one woman he has known all his life and one he just met. Both are careful and meticulous, constantly evaluating risks; they just assess them differently. One’s completely in the moment, a devotee of improvization in life and in music, and the other is a careful guy who plans so much he does not act. One part of the score unites the themes with a jazz take on a Bach composition.
Foxx is turning into a performer of great presence and depth and he makes a convincing leading man. Cruise is a little out of his range but that works oddly well for Vince, giving him a little frisson of uncertainty underneath the Terminator-like singlemindedness of the character. And Cruise has moments of brilliance. He even runs in character, completely focused but so in each moment that he does not try to pace himself. He puts everything he has into each step forward.
Parents should know that the movie is extremely violent with constant tension and peril and many graphic shoot-outs. Many people are killed. Characters use very strong language, drink and smoke, and there are references to drugs and drug dealing.
Families who see this movie should talk about Vince’s ability to compartmentalize. He says he did not kill one of the victims, “the bullet and the fall killed him.” Notice the way that Vince is always to the left of Max except in one scene. Which scene is that and why? What were Max’s options? What is the meaning of the title? Who or what serves as collateral?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Manhunter by the same director. It is the first movie featuring Hannibal Lecter (played by Brian Cox before Anthony Hopkins took over in Silence of the Lambs and it is an overlooked gem. They may also enjoy Internal Affairs, Matchstick Men, and Narrow Margin.