Name: Maxwell Beran
AS 91475: Portfolio Writing
Portfolio piece 2
Texts and author/director: Collateral directed by Micheal Mann
QUESTION: Convincing villains reveal uncomfortable truths about humanity.
In films, villains often serve as adversaries to the protagonist, but there are instances where a villain’s motives and ideology can reveal uncomfortable truths about humanity, offering thought-provoking insights into society. Such is the case with Vincent, portrayed by Tom Cruise in director Michael Mann’s 2004 film “Collateral.” In the film, Vincent is a hitman contracted to kill five people in one night in Los Angeles. He hires a taxi driver named Max, portrayed by Jamie Foxx, to unwillingly drive him to various destinations throughout the night as he carries out a series of assassinations. The director uses a variety of film techniques to explore Vincent’s character and to delve deep into Vincent’s motives and ideology to reveal uncomfortable truths about humanity.
Vincent has an enormous amount of empathy and a distinct lack of it at the same time. He is disgusted by the disconnect between the common man due to humanity’s inherent self-involvement. When Max drives Vincent to different locations, Vincent justifies the reason why he doesn’t care for the random people he is hired to kill. When he kills his first victim, Max is terrified and shocked by the sudden turn of events and asks why he kills for profit. Vincent responds with, “Have you ever heard of Rwanda? Tens of thousands, killed before sundown. Nobody’s killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eye, Max?” Vincent pesters Max for not caring about tens of thousands dying but only caring about one guy just because he’s in close proximity to him. Throughout this scene the director maintains a close up of Vincent to intensify the impact of his speech, whilst allowing the audience to see the nuances in his emotions. In doing so the director succeeds in revealing the intensity behind Vincent’s words and actions along with the use of a hand held camera, creating a sense of unease and instability, mirroring Max’s state of internal disorientation. In this scene Vincent puts to light the disconnect in humanity, stating that people only view others’ deaths as numbers until they experience those deaths first hand. Vincent views people the same way the rest of society views each other, as mere numbers. The only difference between Vincent and society is that proximity doesn’t change his perspective on their lives.
Vincent despises society’s self-involvement and takes full advantage of society’s inherent self-involvement. An example of this is evident when Vincent first hops in the taxi before Max is aware that he’s a hitman. Vincent’s dialogue states, “I read about this guy. Gets on the MTA here, dies. Huh. Six hours he rides the subway before anybody notices his corpse doing laps around L.A. People on and off, sitting next to him. Nobody notices.” Vincent sees this as a manifestation of the city’s disconnect, where millions coexist without really knowing or empathizing with one another’s lives. This observation reflects the theme of social alienation and the lack of genuine human connections in modern urban life, which he uses as a way to justify and get away with his work, because no one notices the people who are missing, and when they do, no one will care if they’re not experiencing it firsthand; they will simply be a number to everyone. During this scene the director employs the use of flashing car lights passing by to emphasize the disconnection among the people of Los Angeles, symbolizing their lives fleetingly passing each other. This is further reinforced with quiet slow somber music in the background to make the Vincent statement feel sad and pessimistic. Vincent loathes humanity’s apathy and the fact that he can kill these people without anyone noticing. This is apparent in the dialogue when Max asks him if he likes Los Angeles, to which he replies: “No, to tell you the truth, whenever I’m here I can’t wait to leave. It’s too sprawled out, disconnected. You know? That’s me. 17 million people in the fifth biggest economy in the world, and nobody knows each other.” He loathes the city and its people because he sees in them the same disconnect that he hates about himself, hating how he can get away with the things he does, yet takes full advantage by profiting off it.
One example of this disconnect is known as the “bystander effect.” The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon where individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when there are other people present. This is because, in crowded urban environments, people may assume that someone else will take responsibility or seek assistance, leading to a dispersal of responsibility. A tragic incident that illustrates this disconnect occurred in New York City in 1964, when Kitty Genovese was attacked, raped, and stabbed multiple times in the early morning outside her apartment building. Despite her cries for help, none of the many witnesses who heard her calls intervened or contacted the police. The incident sparked widespread public outrage and led to discussions about the bystander effect and humanity’s tendency to respond with apathy in situations where someone else can take responsibility, resulting in no one taking it due to a disconnect between individuals in such settings with a large population. In much the same way, I think Vincent is terrifying due to this perspective being grounded in a harsh reality of societal apathy, and his success as a hitman can partly be the fault of societal apathy, allowing him to continuously get away with killing these people without anyone caring due to their own self-involvement and concern.
In conclusion, Tom Cruise’s Vincent in “Collateral”, directed by Michael Mann, serves as a terrifying reflection of humanity’s disconnect and apathy. His ideologies, grounded in a harsh reality, expose society’s indifference, enabling him to succeed as a hitman unnoticed. The film highlights the importance of empathy and breaking down social barriers to foster genuine human connections and combat apathy. The film serves as a thought-provoking example of how villains in cinema can offer insights into human nature and societal flaws, encouraging viewers to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors towards others.