One of the most recognizable faces on Earth as far as Hollywood is concerned has to be Tom Cruise. The Top Gun actor has not only drawn the attention of the masses but done so spectacularly well with his box office performance that his mere name now resonates with success. But it was the early ’00s that began the actor’s journey to being crowned the reigning king of the box office.
Coming off of relatively acclaimed releases like Eyes Wide Shut, Vanilla Sky, and Mission: Impossible 2, Tom Cruise was ready to take on the industry with a new-found love for darker roles. And the Michael Mann 2004 thriller, Collateral, reels in aspects from all of the aforementioned three to make a perfect cocktail of danger, drama, terror, action, violence, and thrill that serves to remind the audience why Cruise’s art extends beyond his love for stunts and the Mission: Impossible franchise.
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Tom Cruise’s Unorthodox Preparation For Collateral
Collateral stars Tom Cruise in the leading role as the unnervingly efficient, precise, and sociopathic assassin, Vincent, alongside Jamie Foxx’s brilliant portrayal of the cab driver who gets inadvertently involved in the former’s machination and is driven purely by his survival instincts to get through a night of terror. But while Foxx has the range of a yellow cab to work his magic in, his co-star stalks, hunts, moves lithely through crowds, and preys on his victims in his role as a killer. As such, there were some unorthodox methods concocted by Mann and Cruise to ensure the latter’s efficiency in portraying an expert assassin.
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As revealed by the director in a behind-the-scenes clip, Tom Cruise was prepped and sent in as a courier to deliver a package in one of the most crowded markets in L.A. The mission – should he choose to accept it – was to complete the task unrecognized. Mann claimed:
“Tom Cruise is one of the most recognizable people on the planet – his voice is recognizable, his profile’s recognizable. He can’t put on a baseball hat and sunglasses and be in the skies and not be noticed. Everybody notices him. Vincent would not be noticed which in fact would be part of his tradecraft and so, I wanted Tom to be a FedEx delivery man, and all he had to do was deliver a package in Central Market which is really crowded and have nobody recognize him as Tom Cruise.
And the first thing you do is you find out what FedEx men do […], they have to scan numbers, get signatures, be polite in a certain way, approach people, know the person they’re talking to, be familiar, deliver the package, and leave. So we walk through the Central Market and Tom delivered the package, sat down, had a cup of coffee with somebody, and they struck up some whole conversation as if Tom was a FedEx man, and nobody recognized him as Tom Cruise. [When] Tom’s being somebody else, [he’s] truly being somebody else.”
Collateral remains one of the most radically different genres that Tom Cruise has touched upon since his breakthrough in the industry with 1986’s Top Gun. His eerily chilling depiction of Vincent in the Michael Mann thriller remains a gem that is, to date, one of the most underrated and less-talked-about films in Cruise’s long career.
A Retrospective of Tom Cruise’s Troubled On-Screen Persona
The 1994 film, Interview With the Vampire, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise is a significantly underappreciated cult classic that has not only aged well but stands as an unspoken edifice to the LGBTQ+ community. The film has perhaps captured Tom Cruise in one of his most suavely chilling and sociopathic personas yet.
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The 1999 Stanley Kubrick erotic psychological drama, Eyes Wide Shut, has a similar reputation although on a much more critically acclaimed scale. Cruise perfectly captures the dangerous melding of thrill and desire mixed with violence, and the near-consuming fatality of jealousy and infidelity that breaks down the barrier between horror, guilt, and calamity in the mind of his character, Dr. Bill Harford.
Vanilla Sky stands as a much less compelling, although equally noteworthy performance if only for the final dawning moments of realization when the veil between Cruise’s dream world and reality shatters and the actor gives an iconic rendition of grappling with grief, trauma, and disbelief in the 2001 sci-fi thriller.
Collateral is currently available for streaming on Paramount+.