In “Collateral,” How Is Vincent a Conflicted Character?
Directed by Michael Mann (Heat, Public Enemies) and written by Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 30 Days of Night), Collateral (2004) focuses on a friendly but lonely Los Angeles cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx), who picks up a businessman named Vincent (Tom Cruise). As it turns out, Vincent turns out to be a contract killer and coerces the unsuspecting driver to take him from hit to hit throughout the course of only several hours. However, despite his profession, the passenger in Max’s back seat may possess more compassion than the audiance gives him credit for.
Now, as likeable as Vincent may be at times, we must not forget that he is a killer. Besides taking out his targets with no hesitation and little remorse, Vincent often justifies his actions through numerous references to adaptation in the natural selection sense of the word, and his overall nihilistic outlook of the world.
Shortly after Vincent kills his first victim, and thus revealing his true intentions to Max, the cabbie is a little shocked with his passenger’s actions. Vincent then argues that people don’t bat and eye when it comes to mass killings, giving the Rwandan genocide as an example, and that there’s, “six billion on the planet and you’re getting bent out of shape cause of one fat guy.”
On their way to the fifth and final hit of the night, who just so happens to be Annie (Jada Pinkett Smith), the woman that Max dropped off right before picking up Vincent, the film’s villain once again makes reference to the cosmos and muses that there’s “Millions of galaxies of hundreds of millions of stars, in a speck on one in a blink. That’s us, lost in space.”
Now, as cold-blooded as Vincent may seem, he does display a human side on multiple occasions.
Just moments after meeting, Vincent makes his dislike of Los Angeles very clear to Max by telling him a story about a man that died on a subway car and wasn’t discovered until several hours later. Ironically, at the conclusion of the film, before Vincent dies on a subway car, he asks Max, “Think anybody will notice?”
Not only is Vincent concerned the disconnection that he feels has run ramped in Los Angeles, but he is also disgusted with the indifference that the postmodern world has created. Paradoxically, the hit man only adds to the suffering that he despises.
Vincent also has a clearly heartfelt conversation about his love of Jazz with his then unsuspecting third victim: the trumpet player Daniel Baker (Barry Shabaka Henley). Although Vincent uses a silenced weapon to kill the target and catches their lifeless body, as to not attract much attention, he also places Daniel down soothingly, almost apologetically, for what he has just done.
On their way to the fourth hit of the night, which occurs during the Korean nightclub shootout, Vincent and Max come across a pack of coyotes. One races in front of their car, while the other one casually walks past the memorized hit man and cab driver.
The theme of predator and prey is a common theme in Collateral. Like these wild animals, Vincent is out on the prowl. Therefore, Vincent is seeing a stripped down, animal-like reflection of himself. Coincidentally, the coyote’s fur is also the same color as Vincent’s hair. So, perhaps, the contract killer’s grey hair is a result of his internal struggles with the outside world and his own guilty actions in it.
So, like Max, who is forced to question the morality he has lived by his entire life, Vincent is forced to confront who he really is as the night’s events unfold. But, in the end, the amount of civility that he may or may not possess is irrelevant, as he is unapologetic for his life choices. Vincent doesn’t ask for forgiveness or beg for mercy. He lives and dies by the code he has set for himself. Much like the coyote’s that will continue to roam that strip of land known as Los Angeles, long after Vincent, and perhaps everyone else, is long gone.