Collateral, or, The Philosophical Hit Man

by Ralph Dumain

There are few American movies I can stand these days, but since I got a free pass for an advance screening of Collateral Thursday night (August 5), I wasn't going to waste it, though I would never spend a nickel to see this film on my own. I don't like action films, nor am I enamored of Tom Cruise, but what the hey.

Tom Cruise as the lead gave a creditable performance, but as I found his character unbelievable, I wasn't terribly impressed. For me, Jamie Foxx, who received second billing, was the real star of the film. His character was extremely sympathetic and was well-played. Foxx of course is best known as a comedian, and for Hollywood that usually means the type of stock black comic character which I can no longer stomach watching. I was very pleased as well as surprised to discover that there was no racial stereotyping of any kind in Foxx's character, and I think he did a damn good job playing a common man with a more-than-common sense of decency. Foxx plays a cab driver carrying on his job with scientific precision while spinning dreams he never realizes.

Tom Cruise plays a hit man with a penchant for existential reflection and a jones for jazz. Hollywood flatters the myth of the detached, businesslike hit man with an intellectual perspective on his job. I have zero patience for this bullshit. These people are not philosophers; they are just vicious animals. I don't buy it. There's that ingredient of hype, and of course this is an action film.

The other aspect of this film experience that most troubled me was the audience. Call me nuts, but as a grownup I have never found violence the least bit entertaining. When the audience guffawed as Tom Cruise pumped people full of bullets, I was extremely offended. Of course it's fiction, but I am not amused. There are some comic elements in the film, not overdone, but brutality and bloodshed do not amuse me one bit.

I found this film gripping, though I'm not an action film buff. It certainly kept my adrenalin pumping. The philosophical hit man theme pops up continuously from beginning to end. As unrealistic as it is, this theme is put to good use, eventually, as the film reaches a turning point, and at the end. I'll not give away the details, but I must mention that there is a key scene in which Foxx redefines his relationship to Cruise. Cruise reiterates his constant refrain that one human life, all human life, the earth, the solar system, this little galaxy, are all insignificant in the scheme of things. He is as indifferent to his own life as to that of those he murders. Foxx won't have any of this foolishness. There is a defining moment in which these two world views clash: there is the man to whom all human life is insignificant, and opposed to him is the man for whom no human life is insignificant. This was the philosophical moment that redeemed all the film's excess: it hit me very hard, shot through me like a lightning bolt. I left the theater very upset. The film deserves a plus for this alone.

Written 8 August 2004, edited & uploaded 14 August 2004
©2004 Ralph Dumain

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Uploaded 14 August 2004
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