A look back at Tom Cruise’s underrated villainous performance

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Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a contract killer in Los Angles for one night in order to eliminate five targets who will declare themselves in front of a grand jury. Max (Jamie Foxx) is a taxi driver who dreams big of having a limousine business. Vincent gets into the taxi and decides that Vincent is going to be his turn for the whole night. Their game of cat and mouse begins there and does not end until the end of the film. It is the story of Collateral, one of Michael Mann’s best movies, with Tom Cruise’s best villainous performance, and here’s why:


Tom Cruise, the villain

For most of his career, Tom Cruise has been a hero. That’s why it’s so interesting when he decides to play complicated and gray characters (Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia, Born July 4), or evil characters (Interview with the Vampire, Collateral). We would have liked to see more of this side of Cruise, because his whole acting style changes and makes him a more interesting actor. In Collateral, Vincent is methodical, charismatic and pragmatic, using all the qualities that make Cruise a star of evil. He dresses all in gray to try to be, well… gray and timeless, but he can’t. Tom Cruise’s acting sometimes feels like someone trying to act like a human, and in this movie, that’s a plus, as Vincent tries to act like a human to be less threatening and more mundane. At least until the movie’s first murder happens, and then we see the devil behind all this greyness, and Cruise having a joking, “improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, things happen, I Ching, whoever man, roll with it…” Vincent told Max, as it was Cruise talking about shooting the scene.

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His character (like most of Cruise and all of Mann) knows he’s the best at what he does, and tonight will present him with a challenge that will help him hone his still excellent skills. Vincent is the devil, and as such he has to be conniving and seductive first, and Cruise nails that part of his character. Mann and Cruise together in a movie is a match made in movie heaven. They are both invested in the preparation of their characters. Cruise had all kinds of training to prepare for the film, and Mann had a long history of the character; well thought out, even if he does not appear in the film. From Cruise’s gray look, Michael Mann told Entertainment Weekly: “I saw Tom as all steel, and the visual for that was silver hair and a tight gray suit. The man he plays is erudite, cultured and [his] sociopathy is total. With Tom, you don’t get what you hear from a lot of movie stars, which is, “Don’t move me out of my reach, which is what I bring to every movie I make.”

Related: Tom Cruise’s Best Drama Movies, Ranked

Foxx vs Cruise: Incredible Actor Fight

Michael Mann loves heavyweight fights between two actors at their peak. It is shown dramatically with Pacino and De Niro in Heatbut it also happens in GuaranteeI. Cruise was still in one of his best times, working with Spielberg and still wanting to be challenged by the movies; before he becomes a stuntman willing to die for entertainment (we love the Impossible mission films, and we will be first in line at the cinema, but his acting in these films is not a challenge). Jamie Foxx had shot Ray before, but the world hadn’t seen him yet, so he was still trying to prove he was more than just a comedic actor. Both actors were at the perfect time to go up against each other in this film, and like in tennis, playing against a great opponent allows you to be at your best. With a few scenes in his cab, Mann cleverly introduces us to who Max is; intelligent, observant, with a big dream and good at his job. That’s why Vincent uses him, and that’s why he becomes the best foil for our villain. Foxx’s character isn’t cool (the biggest trick Foxx plays on us is to trick us into thinking he’s uncool), but he’s resourceful and has a moral code. This is why the conflict between characters and actors is so interesting. They’re not that different except for murder, a duality that Mann always likes to play, showing that they could be two sides of the same coin.

Once the conflict is settled, the movie never ends (literally) as there are four more murders to do, creating a weird and scary tour of LA The two main actors are great, but at these stops is when we see Mann’s incredible cast. selected for the film and, in small roles, they shine. Javier Bardem may only have one scene, but what a scene; you could say it’s the best of the film, like the menacing Mexican who has his own way of looking at life. The same should be said about Barry Shabaka Henley and the nightclub scene. We can see the moment he realizes he’s about to die and how his whole body, face and mannerisms change in a second. Jada Pinkett Smith is sexy in her first scene with Max in the taxi, and we understand their connection almost instantly, even if in the end, she’s a bit too much of a damsel in distress. And then there’s Mark Ruffalo as a detective; he never looked so sleazy, with an earring and his hair all gelled. Ruffalo still looks like a smart professor (one of the things that made him great for the Hulk), and here you can believe he has an ex-wife who never gets his child support payments on time. The moment he dies is also surprising, as we understand Collateral is a different movie, without heroes, and Max will have to survive this hellish night alone. Even Jason Statham’s cameo leaves us with questions. Is this sound Carrier character? Probably, but we’ll never know for sure.

Related: Best Movies Shot In Los Angeles, Ranked

The brilliance of Michael Mann

Michael Mann is an obsessive, brilliant director who still enjoys making movies about men who are great at their jobs, but don’t get much more out of them. They only really live when they’re working, and the rest is a blur: love partners, friends, vacations, it doesn’t matter that much, and their personal hell would be to spend too much time in those worlds. And Collateral is no different. Vincent and Max live and breathe their work, one of the reasons they are so good in the film. In another world (where Vincent isn’t a killer, or Max’s morals are less important), this could have been a buddy movie, as the two characters understand each other, but here they’re rivals.

Mann loved the script because “the whole movie is like the third act of a traditional drama”. We only catch this guy on this day and at this exact time. With these ingredients, Mann could obsess over the little details that make him a unique director and try new things. It was the first film in which Mann (or really any top Hollywood director) used high definition video instead of film. Mann said that for capturing the silhouettes of Los Angeles at night, celluloid wouldn’t have worked. Additionally, there is consistency in the route taken by the cabin; something that’s usually not that important to directors as long as it gets a good shot; creating Mann’s second best film, Heat, nearly thirty years later, it’s still his best.

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