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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

MLM: Collateral. 

There’s a scene in Michael Mann’s Collateral that, in one striking visual, defines its antagonist and his place in the city he moves through. Max the cabbie (Jamie Foxx) has been forced at gunpoint to drive Vincent (Tom Cruise) around Los Angeles while Vincent kills a number of witnesses in a federal drug case. The two have argued, talked, and finally found a silence that more resembles a cease-fire than anything companionable. Max is driving them through the small hours of the morning when Vincent spots it: a lone, silver-haired wolf plodding the empty streets of a Los Angeles neighborhood.

Laid bare like that, the metaphor seems clumsy at best, obnoxiously overt at worst. It is neither. For half the movie we’ve seen Max and Vincent argue with each other, seen them probe each other’s weaknesses, seen them reason with each other on their own idiosyncratic ways. In the final analysis, there are only two descriptors for Vincent: he is a predator, and he is alone.

We know from the opening scene in the movie that Vincent is up to something clandestine. Max does not. When the two finally meet, when Vincent slides into the backseat of Max’s cab, Max finds the man brusque but intelligent. Vincent doesn’t read like he wants a friend, but he is interesting and conversational… and maybe a little bent.

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