Collateral (Michael Mann, 2004)

Collateral is a fast-paced action film but it is much more than that. Director Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider, Heat) has a penchant for developing truly human characters in his films. This penchant turns an ordinary action movie into an exploration of what happens when two worldviews collide and forces us to answer questions we would rather leave unasked.

Max (Jamie Foxx) is an ordinary guy living an ordinary, if not mundane life. He has spent the past twelve years driving a cab at night. He takes pride in being the best at what he does but he spends his time dreaming of bigger things and taking vacations in his mind. He’s waiting for the perfect moment to start a new life but one night in a cab with Vincent forces him to realize that moment may never come.

Vincent (Tom Cruise) is a killer for hire in L.A. for a few hours to get some work done. He hires an assuming Max to drive him around for the evening to take care of some “real estate deals.” When Max becomes wise to what’s really going on Vincent hijacks the cab and forces Max to drive him to the rest of his “appointments.” As the night unfolds the tension builds and we discover that this movie is more about the interactions between these two men than it is about dazzling and brutal action sequences.

Cruise delivers what is probably his best performance to date and Foxx shows the true star potential that came to be fully recognized in Ray. The film is rounded out by a superb supporting cast including Mark Ruffalo, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Peter Berg.


1. What are your thoughts on how the two main characters are introduced at the beginning of the film? 2. What are your thoughts about the brief introduction of Vincent as compared to the lengthier introduction to Max? Does this tell us anything about the nature of the characters and /or their role in the film? 3. When Max first enters his cab everything is instantly silent compared to the noise in the garage. What does this tell us about how the taxi factors in to Max’s life? 4. What are your thoughts about the dialogue between Max and Annie in the cab? What does this tell you about Max’s work ethic? Character? Disposition? 5. What do you think about Max’s concept of a vacation? What does this tell you about his character? Do you have your own private getaway? If so, where is it and how often do you go there? 6. How does the way Vincent is dressed affect the way you perceive him? Why do you think the director chose to have Vincent look the way he does? Are there any statements about the way of the world bound up in Vincent’s appearance? 7. Vincent almost gets into a different cab. Had that happened Max’s night would have followed his normal routine. What are your thoughts on the apparent randomness of this encounter? 8. There are several other “coincidences” throughout this film that either save someone or get them killed. What are some of these other coincidences? What is the statement about life that the director makes through these coincidences? 9. Do you believe that things happen randomly or do you think there is a purpose behind the events that take place in our lives? Why? How does your opinion in this area influence the way you live your life? 10. What’s the difference between how Max initially interacts with Vincent and how he interacted with Annie? 11. What do you think about Vincent’s comments about L.A.? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Is there truth to what he says? In particular, what do you think about his story of the guy who dies while riding the MTA? 12. Vincent describes L.A. as sprawled out and disconnected then says, “that’s me.” What do you think he meant by that? 13. How does Vincent’s demeanor strike your? How does Max’s? Do you know anyone in real life who resembles either of these personalities? Who do you most resemble? 14. Is Vincent’s demeanor any different after the first murder? If so, how? How would you describe his attitude toward murder and killing? What do you think about this attitude? 15. What are your thoughts about Vincent’s answers to the questions Max poses about murder? Is there any logic or legitimacy to these answers? In particular what do you think about what Vincent has to say about Rwanda? Does Vincent’s answers raise any questions in your mind about life and death, violence and murder? 16. Max doesn’t have any solid rebuttal for Vincent’s “logic.” Do you? 17. What do you think about how Vincent uses Max’s morality to manipulate him when he’s pulled over by the police? What are some other places in the film where Vincent uses Max’s morality to manipulate him? Have you ever felt like someone has used your morals and sense of right and wrong to manipulate you? What did that feel like? How did you respond? 18. What do you think about the interchange between Vincent, Max and Max’s boss? Does this exchange change the way you feel about Vincent at all? If so, how? Why? Why do you think this scene was included in the film? Was it just for some comic relief or was their some other reason behind it? 19. What are the similarities and dissimilarities between Vincent and the street thugs? 20. Vincent places the blame for the deaths of the street thugs on Max. Max seems to accept this blame? Who do you think is to blame? 21. What is your initial impression of Fanning? Why did you respond that way? Did your impression change over the course of the movie? 22. What did you think about Fanning’s information—that Vincent has done this before and the previous cabby was killed? How did this knowledge affect how you watched the rest of the movie? Did it change how you felt about Max or Vincent? If so what’s the difference? Why did you feel this way? 23. Why do you think the director would give us this information at such an early stage in the movie? 24. What do you think about Vincent’s spiel about jazz? What do you think about his comparison between the way jazz is played and the way his night is going? Does your life ever reflect jazz in the way Vincent describes it? 25. What do you think about Vincent’s comment that we don’t know where we’ll be ten minutes from now? What’s the point of the comment in the film? What’s the truth of the statement for real life? 26. Max seems to be calm and more relaxed during the conversation with Daniel. This all changes as soon as he realizes that Daniel is Vincent’s next mark. Why do you think Max was able to relax during the discussion? How is his reaction to Daniel’s murder different compared to the other murders Vincent commits? Why do you think his reaction is different here? 27. Max asks Vincent if he would have let Daniel go if he got the answer right. Why doesn’t Vincent answer? 28. What is Vincent’s reaction immediately after he kills Daniel? Why do you think he has this reaction? Do you think Vincent liked Daniel? If so, why did he still kill him? 29. Why does Max steal Vincent’s briefcase? Why does he throw it onto the freeway? What did you think of this scene? 30. What are your thoughts on the conversation that Max and Vincent have about family? How does this conversation affect the way you see their characters? 31. Can you relate to anything either of the characters say in that conversation? 32. What are your thoughts about Vincent’s statement that Max should take comfort in knowing that he never had a choice? Would you be able to take comfort in that? Why or why not? 33. What do you think about Max’s conversation with Felix? How does his ability to “play jazz” show up in this scene? What does this tell you about Max’s character and his chances for survival? 34. Do you think Vincent sent Max in to talk with Felix for the reasons he stated or do you think he maybe knew that the F.B.I. was watching Felix’s club? 35. What do you think about the conversation between Vincent and Max about whether or not Max should call Annie? Why does Vincent initiate this conversation? How does Vincent know that she gave Max her card? 36. What do you think about the scene where Max stops the car to allow the coyotes to run across the road? Why does the director include this scene in the movie? Even though there are no words in this scene, what is being communicated? How are silence and music used to enhance this scene? How does this scene relate to Max and Vincent? 37. How would you describe the manner in which Vincent walks through the club and takes people out? What do you think about his demeanor as he exits? What does this tell you about his character? 38. Why do you think Vincent protects Max and keeps him from getting shot? What do you think of the look that Vincent gives Max after he saves him? 39. When Fanning is killed, it is very abrupt and surprising. How did this scene affect you? 40. Almost all the deaths in this film were sudden and abrupt. What is the filmmaker trying to say by filming death in such a way? Do you feel bad for some of the people killed in the movie but not others? Why? 41. What are your thoughts on the conversation Vincent and Max have in the cab after they leave Fever? What are the types of world views being expressed? How does this conversation affect each of the characters? 42. What do you think about Max’s description of Vincent as someone who is missing the standard parts that other people have on the inside? What do you think about Max’s reaction to Vincent’s words? 43. What do you think about how Max confronts Vincent with his own world view? How does Vincent react when Max forces him to come face to face with what he claims to believe about reality? Have you ever heard someone propose beliefs similar to the ones that Vincent does? 44. What are your thoughts about these views? Why? 45. What do you think about the final standoff between Max and Vincent? Was it appropriately climactic or were you unsatisfied? Why? 46. What are your thoughts on Vincent’s final words? 47. Why did the director choose these words as his last? 48. Is there any significance in showing that Vincent alone on the MTA while Max and Annie walk off together? If so what is it? 49. There is quite a bit of humor throughout this film. What do you think about the way the filmmaker juxtaposes humor and brutality? 50. Which character do you identify with the most in this film? Why? 51. Most people will probably identify with Max, but do you think there is a little bit of Vincent in all of us? Why or why not? If you agree that there is a little bit of Vincent in all of us then what does that say about human nature and how do you live with this fact? 52. Why is this movie named “Collateral?”


Collateral credits: Starring: Tom Cruise (Vincent) Jamie Foxx (Max) Jada Pinkett Smith (Annie) Mark Ruffalo (Fanning) Director: Michael Mann Writing Credits: Stuart Beattie Producers: Michael Mann, Julie Richardson, Chuck Russell & Michael Waxman Cinematographer: Dion Beebe, Paul Cameron Costumes: Jeffrey Kurland Original Music: James Newton Howard Runtime: 120 minutes Rated R for violence and language.