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Collateral - spoilers aplenty (for Jordan)

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Posted 24 April 2011 - 02:48 PM

Ok so Jordan mentioned somewhere else that he liked Collateral, the Michael Mann buddy-assassin movie starring Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise. I just want to take this opportunity to shit all over it, because I thought it was stupid. This is not meant to be an attack on Jordan, nor on his tastes, his character, or personality. If MG joins in and supports either side, however, I will take the opportunity to attack his tastes, his character and his personality, since that's apparently what I do. ( :lol: )

Ok so it's a nice looking movie, and it is full of nice looking people. It all takes place at night, so it's all long shadows and street lights, with the occasional night club and gang den thrown in for good measure. It does have a brightly-lit hospital scene somewhere along the way, but mostly it's all nice shadows defining the well-cheekbones and muscular leading men. So, ok, it's pretty. Now I am done saying nice things about it. About 40% of what follows is a cut-and-paste from some comments I made on the IMDB boards. Some of the setups I have stolen from some others who praised the film (these will be in italics); all of the retorts are mine. Some is new, most is old, much has been corrected for typos and so on. The final sentence is not mine, but I think it's funny to end on that.

The story in this film is idiotic. I will summarize it in as briefly as I can: a bad guy is on a mission to kill a lot of people, and he goes from crime to crime in a taxicab. One of his victims is a pretty woman who met the cabbie earlier. The bad guy's plan is to make it look like the cabbie killed everyone and then himself, but in the end the cabbie, spurred on by love for the woman he'd just met (and emboldened by growth experiences from throughout the evening), kills the bad guy instead. The end.

1. All right, the cops and the FBI would have to be pretty stupid for the cover story to work. All of the victims were related to a single court case and were killed professionally, two in the chest and one in the head. Crime scene investigators comment on the expertness of the killings. If this was supposed to be a random spree from a suicidal person, like the one from three years that Mark Ruffalo references, the victims should be unrelated and close together, or directly related to their alleged killer. There should also be bullets everywhere, lots of wasted rounds, maybe even some collateral damage. So the plan is stupid, and only a really forgiving film audience would allow it. Killing the cabbie at the end would just add a victim, not create a patsy. Unless of course the cops and FBI were stupid and thought the cabbie who had been clocking in and taking fares for 12 years was a secret assassin.

So the premise of a killer taking a cab from crime to crime is stupid. Your getaway driver should be an employee, not some random dude who may well fuck things up for you. And all for a cover story that would never fool anyone. You think the DA wouldn't notice that this new killer he was prosecuting had just killed all of the witnesses in another case of his? I think he would have noticed that. The premise is movie magic, a way to squeeze two unlikely partners into a buddy drama. You shouldn't be too acutely aware that you're watching a movie while you're watching it, or you lose your ability to something your something.

And while I am at it, to make the story work we need no witnesses to Vincent (Tom Cruise). So, Vincent would have to go back after killing Max (Jamie Foxx), and kill Max's mother in the hospital, since he went in there to meet her (this really happened in this movie, the killer and his hostage went in to a building full of people with cops and cameras everywhere, to visit the hostage's sick mother). Then he would have killed the cab dispatcher he'd been badgering all night on the radio, despite having no idea where he was or what he looked like. Then he's have to go back for the waitress who saw him with Max, and the bartenders and the doormen at that jazz club, and probably all the other musicians, and everyone else there, as well as everyone at the night club, and then he would have gathered up all the security tapes at the hospital (and the night club) after killing everyone who worked at the hospital, including the people he bought the flowers from, before disappearing like a ghost in a magical puff of incomprehensible movie bullshit. More on all this later, but I have seen Scooby Doo villains with better schemes. In fact, I have not seen a dumber villain plot in a serious film since Arlington Road.

2. One of the "themes" of the movie is chance events changing your life. Such as Vincent nearly taking the next cab instead of Max's. This is the film's "story" method of justifying any nonsensical coincidence it likes, such as having the final intended victim be a woman whom Max had just dropped off where he first meets Vincent. Naturally this is also so the last victim will mean something to the main character. See, in Die Hard this was achieved by letting the bad guy know that Holly was John's wife. What got the two of them in the same building together was the same thing: they were husband and wife. The gal in the cab that Max falls for is a woman he just met, and with whom he had one conversation. And no another person he just met wants to kill her, and to get away in Max's cab. This is a lot harder to swallow than Hans figuring out what it was that brought John to the party. In Collateral, Vincent even comments on how there are 17 million people in the city and that they are geographically separated by huge boroughs and freeways, drawing even more attention to how much a coincidence it is that they would both get into the same cab. Here's another example of this type of coincidence: In Grosse Pointe Blank, this was done by making the target of the intended assassination be the hero's ex-girlfriend's dad. Grosse Pointe Blank was a comedy so the comical coincidence was great. In this film, a drama, it was grating.

3. There's a sequence where Max has to pretend he's a killer so that he can get some information from the guys who hired Vincent. He has to act all cold and killer-like. This is one of those character moments where a guy gets to act different from how he is in the rest of the movie, to show growth. So we all know the narrative purpose this sequence was meant to serve (it will build character), but the bit makes no sense. Vincent is on a mission to kill what, six people, and he's carrying around a briefcase with a million sheets of paper in it? Ok never mind that it's syupid for him to need the info, let's look at how he gets it. The villains have never met Vincent, so they believe that Max is Vincent based on Max acting all cold. In Quick Change, a comedy with Bill Murray, it's funny when Bill Murray pretends to be a bagman and fools some mobsters he's never met, to talk his way out of a bad scene. Again that movie was a comedy, and we don't care that he's able to talk his way out of it. Also it has that exchange where a guy puts a gun in Bill's ass and says "That's not my dick in your ass," to which Bill says "That's a relief." So I can forgive that movie for this silly scene, even if it used to motivate the conflict of the last third of the film. Back to Collateral: even if they had never met Vincent, these guys would have known something about him that would have ferreted Max out immediately. So his going all badass on them to get exactly what he wanted was just something the filmmakers wanted, to show character growth. It made no real sense.

4. The big night club shootout: That club must have been 60000000 square feet, because people were running full tilt for about 2 minutes and they never got near the doors. And any time I have been at a club and the FBI decided to bust in to secure a witness who's hanging out there, they've immediately demanded the house lights up, the music off, and everyone move to the walls, while they walked in, secured the exits, guns out and up. These FBI guys were just running around like idiots, and then they all disappeared. They didn't even, you know, send anyone out back or leave anyone at the front door. They just walked into gunfire for a while before disappearing when their continued presence would make it hard for the story to continue. The moment the excitement was over, both Vincent and Max were able to walk through their carefully drawn net and just drive away.

5. The bit that motivated point 3, when Max ran out of the hospital with Vincent's briefcase: Well I wouldn't have left a killer alone with my mother, but I guess he panicked. I don't have a problem with this, but when you're running from a guy, don't run outside and into the unknown. Run into the secured area of the hospital where all of the cameras and the security guards will be able to document you. The bad guy will know better than to chase you there, unless he's one of those bad guys who can immediately determine where every guard and camera might be, and can shoot cameras without allowing the lenses to focus on him. Ah ... never mind, this is the kind of movie that would have let him do that. After all, this movie had him prefer walking around in a hospital and visiting a patient whose son he plans to kill later to having him, you know, lay low. I wonder when he went back to kill the mother, would the "crime spree crazy cabbie killed himself" story still work? Would the police be able to see him on the security footage afterward, or wouldn't they bother?

While we're at it, did I miss the bit where everyone at the jazz club left so he could kill that guy? Waitresses, patrons, doormen, bartenders, everyone were just gone. They were there in the Wide and Medium shots, then we moved in to close-ups, in the space of a few sentences, and because we can't see the out-of-focus background when we're in a close-up, they were able to disappear by movie magic. I caught the one shot where a waitress walked out a door, but where was everyone else? Did Vincent actually sit in that bar waiting for it to completely empty? And when Vincent revealed his identity, after the waitress had walked out, how did he know he had the time to fuck around and play Trivial Pursuit for another three minutes? How did he know that? Was that really his plan? Or was he ready to kill a few dozen witnesses if need be? That's either one perfect assassin who always knows where people are, no matter what, or that's a really dumb scene.

Oh and all night, while Max is allegedly killing people, Vincent is talking to his dispatcher. Was any of that going to come up later, when in his master plan he was going to pretend that Max was a lone nut who had killed himself? When the cops started interviewing people, was Vincent sure that the dispatcher was not going to mention that he'd apparently had one fare for hours (depending on how long they sat in that jazz bar)? How could he know that the dispatcher would keep quiet? Was he going to go there and kill him too? Before or after the fake suicide? Why was he adding work, adding the dispatcher, Max's mom, and numerous eyewitnesses in the hospital to his hit list? What's wrong with this guy?

Anyway ... when running from a bad guy don't steal his bag, unless you're not worried about him killing your mother. And when you're an assassin and you're already carrying a laptop and all the information you need can fit on a simple thumb drive, why are you also carrying a huge briefcase filled with paperwork? Why even the laptop? You're running around shooting people all night; what do you need the baggage for? Why not have everything on one piece of paper?

But yeah, panic could have been the reason Max ran, sure.

6. The big car crash, where Max deliberately wipes out, in an effort to stop Vincent once and for all. A lot of people complain that the crash was so dramatic that they both should have died, which apparently was Max's goal. I say nay; they could have survived that. That was my first thought when he was asked to drive to the second crime: get on the freeway, drive fast but not too fast, hit the wall. Your airbag or belt (drive more slowly if no airbag) will save your life, his lack of belt (cause he's so macho) will cause his death. Lean left so his flying body won't break your neck as it exits the front window, sit patiently and await the jaws of life. Instead he flips the car on a curb barrier, which by the way is really hard to do but it sure happens a ,lot on the movies. It happens for two reasons: it looks great, and it's really safe. By failing to effect an impact collision, and by allowing the force of the crash to be so well distributed that it looked like a planned stunt, Max made it possible for both victims to walk away. That was bad driving, Max. You should have seen The Last Seduction.

7. Back to the "theme" of chance events: In the final shootout, Max fires wildly, but Vincent does his professional "2 in the heart 1 in the head thing." Sadly for Vincent the doors close at that very moment causing his shots to hit the steel frame of the door and get stopped, while Max's wild shots go through the glass, striking Vincent. This last shootout was dumb, but no dumber than Vincent as Aragorn the assassin tracking his prey across the city, nor any dumber than his jumping onto a moving train after it had accelerated up to about 40mph. If you watch that shot, you can see it's digitally altered because nobody could do it, much less a guy who was slowly bleeding to death from a head injury and a gunshot wound. But I hated the final shootout even if I can understand the way they made it work (chance tipping the scales so that chaos bested control). I hated it because we'd already had a shootout, in the law office. A way better ending to the film would have been where Max shot Vincent multiple times in the law office, rather than firing once and immediately turning his back. Rule #2: Double Tap! I hope after he survived that ordeal he took his new ladyfriend to see Zombieland.

8. This is an afterthought: if you're in a hurry to murder people, you'll likely have a few hours to kill while you wait for a jazz club to close. This is also the most efficient order to do things, to wait hours in a public place for a guy whose location is known, rather than to go after the other people first and then come back later for the guy who you know will be in a jazz club until after it is closed.

All in all I think it was an excellent movie, cleverly written and well acted in all parts.
"I had a lot of different ideas. At one point, Luke, Leia and Ben were all going to be little people, and we did screen tests to see if we could do that." -George Lucas, in STAR WARS: the Annotated Screenplays (p197).

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