Movie Misfires: Collateral (2004)
Does this Michael Mann flick about a deadly assassin with 5 targets to kill in one night stand up to scrutiny 16 years later?
Collateral is a great movie. It’s subtle and dark with crisp clean action and a wonderful depiction of Los Angeles at night. And there is a some great shooting, even by real world standards let alone Hollywood ones, a testament to the training undertaken by Tom Cruise, who stars as an elite ex-military assassin, Vincent, alongside Jamie Foxx as the mild-mannered cabbie, Max.
The premise is pure tinsel town. Vincent is a professional hitman with a seriously nihilistic life philosophy. Though it’s not explicitly stated, it’s implied one of his specialties is the ability to arrive in a city, take out a number of specific targets in a short amount of time, and vanish, leaving some sap to take the blame for a murder spree. At least once before, he’s used a cabbie to ferry him around from hit to hit, and then killing him last and leaving him as the only suspect.
It’s far-fetched, but cool. And Vincent is in L.A. to perform his specialty, taking out five witnesses the night before they are scheduled to testify in a major case.
We see him arrive at LAX and pickup a small suitcase once he leaves security, dropped for him by none other than Jason Statham. (Some fans have theorized that Statham is making a cameo as Frank Martin from The Transporter movies.) The briefcase contains a tablet computer with the list of his targets and supporting information, along with two firearms and ammunition.
Vincent sees Max in his cab, notes how clean the inside and outside are, and how fastidious and innocuous its driver is, and gets in. He spins a story about bing in LA for one night to gather a bunch of signatures to complete a real estate deal on a deadline. He offers Max $600 to drive him around all night. After a bit of reluctance, Max agrees.
But things go wrong at the first location, when Vincent shoots his target, and the body falls through a second-story window and onto Max’s cab waiting in the alley.
Max: Hey. He, he, he fell on the cab. He fell, he fell from up there on the mother$^#ing cab. Shit. I think he’s dead.
Vincent: Good guess.
Max: You killed him?
Vincent: No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him.
Vincent: Okay, look, here’s the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we’re into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.
Max: I Ching? What are you talking about, man? You threw a man out of a window.
Vincent: I didn’t throw him. He fell.
Max: Well what did he do to you?
Max: What did he do to you?
Vincent: Nothing. I only met him tonight.
Max: You just met him once and you killed him like that?
Vincent: What? I should only kill people after I get to know them? Max, six billion people on the planet, you’re getting bent out of shape cause of one fat guy.
Now that Max knows what Vincent is about, he intimidates him into continuing to drive him to his targets and not sound any alarms, though Max continually tries to talk Vincent out of his course of action, and even throws his case into traffic, destroying his target information.
The movie is filled with great dialogue and ambiance, as one usually expects from a Michael Mann-helmed film, with a glossy noir quality throughout, and Vincent, with his gray suit and hair, has the air of a shark as he walks through a crowd.
Vincent’s ultimately empty platitudes are filled with bits and pieces of philosophy mixed with world weary street wisdom and an interesting moral code. Max acts as a portal to the audience, reacting to everything Vincent does at the same time as we do, but by the end, you come to like both characters quite a bit.
Now onto the gun stuff. Mann is a gun guy when it comes to the movies he makes, and he usually makes an effort to carefully consider the firearms chosen for a film. Just look at the great firearms work in the classic Heat (1995). He also has a reputation for seeking out top-notch trainers to teach his actors how to look like they know exactly what they’re doing with firearms.
And we all know Tom Cruise loves to throw himself into training for a movie, whether it be rock climbing, sky diving, or flying an actual fighter jet like he does in Top Gun: Maverick (2020). Word is he’ll be adding spacewalk to that list in the near future.
From the way he shoots and handles pistols in Collateral, it’s clear Cruise threw himself into the gun training, and it shows—and it’s evident in his later action movies as well.
In the original Mission: Impossible (1996), we see Cruise using the same teacup grip it seems every actor was taught to use in the ’90s (see Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond movies). But his two-handed grip is excellent in Collateral, as is his trigger discipline.
Then there’s that scene, that epic scene.
Vincent leaves Max zip-tied to the wheel of the taxi. His thrashing and horn honking gets the attention of four raunchy looking dudes walking by. Two of them, instead of helping Max, proceed to rob him at gun point, despite the fact that he’s tied up. The gunman ends up taking Max’s wallet and Vincent’s suitcase from the back seat.
Vincent emerges from the building just as they’re walking away, calls out to get their attention, “Yo, homie. That my briefcase?” The two robbers turn back and close the distance to Vincent, with the talker pointing his gun at him and demanding his wallet.
Smooth as silk, Vincent waits until the gunman gets close enough. He then pushes his pistol to the side, draws his H&K USP from his waistband, and fires two shots into the robber’s torso from the hip. He then pivots and triple-taps the other robber, as he comes up into a Weaver stance.
The original script called for these five shots to be the end of it, but in the film, Vincent retrieves his briefcase and fires a final shot without looking into the first gunman, who wasn’t quite dead.
The script also says Vincent was to fire that first salvo of 5 shots on two targets in 1.6 seconds. Cruise does it in 1.39 seconds. That’s impressive. Even though he’s firing blanks—performing that disarming move, drawing his pistol, and firing five shots that look like they’re well placed in that time while looking fluid and making it look easy is still damn impressive.
This also very clearly shows the audience what kind of hitman Vincent is—and its clear to anyone he’s highly trained. And kudos to Mann for another movie that has realistic-sounding gunshots, much like the ones in Heat.
Later, during the hit at Club Fever, which I feel served as inspiration for similar scenes in the John Wick movies, Cruise shoots from a number of positions, performs quick and realistic reloads, and he just moves right without any unnecessary or unrealistic Hollywood flair.
Ultimately, he executes the fourth witness with another triple tap, or Mozambique Drill, or Failure Drill, or whatever you want to call it—two shots center mass, one shot to the head. He then unceremoniously walks into the crowd, holstering his pistol.
As far as Vincent’s loadout is concerned, it’s pretty solid and makes sense in the context of the story. We don’t know if he specified the exact firearms he wanted in the case or if the parameters were loose, but what’s included is a Heckler & Koch USP in .45 ACP with a custom black IWB holster that he carries on the right side of his waistband. He doesn’t wear a belt with his suit. According to Bamfstyle.com, the holster was created for the production and was auctioned by the Prop Store of London in 2013. The site says it was an original G-Code holster fitted with an early IWB adapter.
On the left side of his waist, he carries two spare magazines for the USP in Safariland CD-Auto mag carriers. The placement of these and his holster are why he makes it a point to keep his jacket buttoned in public.
The other gun he has is an Ruger Mk II .22 LR pistol with an AAC Phoenix integrated suppressor, which is the gun he’s holding on his knee in the movie poster. Vincent uses this quiet rimfire to kill the Daniel (Barry Shabaka Henley) in the jazz club.
This is the only time Vincent uses the long pistol and he loses it when Max throws the briefcase into the traffic. There’s actual a brief shot where we see its distinctive shape laying on the highway.
The only thing missing is an option for a long-range shot, but that doesn’t seem to be Vincent’s style and none of the locations really call for it.
Near the end of the movie, when Max flips the taxi. Vincent runs off before a cop arrives. He intially tries to help Max until he sees the body of the first man Vincent killed poking out of the busted trunk. He tries to take Max into custody, but when he sees on Vincent’s tablet that Annie is the final target, he uses Vincent’s USP that he finds on the pavement to get the upper hand on the cop and handcuffs him to the car wreck before running off to save her.
Vincent, determined to complete his contract, kills a security guard at the Federal building where Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith) works and takes his Smith & Wesson 5906 pistol and spare magazines, which he carries for the rest of the movie. The script actually called for Vincent to switch to his backup pistol, specifically a “Para-Ordnance .45.”
Max fends off Vincent at the Federal building once he realizes Annie is the final target, and then leads the hitman on a chase that ends in two cars on the Metro Rail, in which Max comes out on top.
And there’s something to be said here too. When Max shoots a chunk out of Vincent’s ear at the Federal building, it’s pure chance. Jaimie Foxx holds the gun like his character has never held one before and I’m pretty sure his eyes are shut when he fires the shot. And later, on the train, he definitely closes his eyes and fires blindly in the dark until the mag is empty. He just happens to hit Vincent with one round through the door between cars.
The point is, Max doesn’t become some every-man superhero as soon as he gets his hands on a gun and has a personal stake in the game. He just takes the initiative, girds his loins, and gets a bit of help from fate.
As far as the guns go, this movie is about as solid as it gets. The guns and their use fit the characters and the story. The night club shootout is a little over the top, but it is a movie, after all, not a documentary. And still, realistic tactics were displayed despite some Hollywood scenes and circumstances. Weapon use is depicted realistically and extra points for real-sounding gunshots.
The only little blip in this movie is the almost ever-present too-quiet-suppressor problem. When Vincent kills the jazz musician, the shot is so silent, he catches his head so nobody hears it bang against the table.