Movies That Shaped Me: Collateral

In August of 2004, I encountered the film that solidified my desire to make movies, no matter the cost.

I had been a budding filmmaker for a just over a year, had a part-time job as a video producer at a church that turned into a full-time job inside of that year. I was making little short films with friends on the weekends. Nothing serious; usually it was just an excuse to whip out the camera and play with editing software. I had no connection to any other filmmakers in my area, and not much of a realization that there was any kind of film scene in Idaho – before the days of Facebook, one had to search a little harder online to find those kinds of communities, and I was more focused on technical research than communal connection.

My wife and I went to the movies, and I experienced the film Collateral, directed by Michael Mann, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. I was greatly affected. It was the first film I’d seen on the big screen that really took advantage of HD video in a non-CGI saturated endeavor. As a digital video creator, this resonated.

But on a deeper level, it hit my soul hard. Every time our protagonist and antagonist got in the cab and drove across an ambient night in Los Angeles, I felt the strongest connection to two characters I had ever known. Something about being in the car, trapped with each other as they drove about, brought out truths and realities far deeper than its surface level thriller plot. It was like Max (Foxx) and Vincent (Cruise) were two sides of the same coin, and that coin was planted firmly in my psyche. Naïve positivity on the brink of dishonesty, confronted by cutting cynicism, the latter simultaneously enchanted and frustrated by the former.

I mourned for Vincent, and rooted for Max. The villain and hero, opposed, yet tied together in a strange comradery. Walking out of that screening, emotions running high, my thoughts were simple. I want to do that.

Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of driving scenes in the two feature films I produced a few years later. I’ve come to love seeing characters sit and watch what’s in front of them, while dealing with their internal conflicts. Whether it be in a car or simply at a dinner table, all the explosions and twist endings pale in comparison to the silent helplessness of the moments in-between action and reaction. The wordless uncertainty. The unspoken tension.

I’m extraordinarily thankful to Michael Mann for producing Collateral. It’s like a fine wine that I return to every few years to savor and refocus.

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