Collateral (2004) Ending Explained – What does the ending really mean?


Collateral Plot Analysis

A cab driver, Max (Jamie Foxx), has his world upside down when he learns that the passenger in his taxi, Vincent (Tom Cruise), is a violent hitman on a killing spree. Held hostage at gunpoint, Max takes Vincent from one target to another – before deciding to risk his own life to save the life of Vincent’s last target.

How does Max’s night shift begin?

Max’s last fare before Vincent was a federal prosecutor, Annie Farrell (Jada Pinkett Smith) – who is preparing for a very important case. During the drive, they form an unspoken friendship, and Annie gives her business card to Max.

Vincent hops in next and offers Max $600 to take him to several locations. Though reluctant initially, Max accepts the offer. And, it’s not long before Max starts smelling a rat.

How does Vincent’s night shift begin?

After Max drives Vincent to the first stop, he waits outside the building for Vincent to get back. Before long, a dead body falls onto the taxi – partially smashing the windshield.

Afterwards, Vincent reveals himself to be a hitman – in Los Angeles to put five people to death in one night. He coerces Max to hide the corpse of his first victim in the trunk of his car. Freaked out, Max begs Vincent to let him go – but Vincent has fixed Max as his designated driver for the duration of his task. What’s more, Vincent makes it clear he won’t hesitate to shoot him down if he tries to slip out or betray him.


Who does Vincent go after next?

After making the first kill, Vincent has four more individuals left on his list to hunt down. At the second stop, he ties Max to the steering wheel and murders his second target. Max asks two young passers-by to help him out. Instead of helping him, the men mug him and seize Vincent’s briefcase. Vincent arrives at the spot and shoots down both men without wasting a moment.

Vincent then commands Max to drive to a jazz club, where he meets with the club owner, Daniel – who he reveals to be his next target. Despite Max’s request to let Daniel live, Vincent unexpectedly executes a headshot on Daniel after a bit of gameplay.

Vincent and Max go to the hospital to see Max’s ailing mother. On the way, Vincent buys a bouquet for Max’s mother. The old lady is warm towards Vincent and tells him that she is very proud of her son. Uncomfortable seeing his mother in the company of a man with serious homicidal habits, Max leaves and runs with Vincent’s briefcase.

Vincent chases him down to a flyover where Max throws the briefcase on a freeway destroying it in an instant. With the briefcase, the information about the last two targets is also lost.

Furious Vincent orders Max to pose as him to retrieve the information of the last two targets from drug lord Felix Reyes-Torrena. Max does as he says.

Then, Vincent along with Max head to a nightclub to take the fourth one down. However, having found the three previous murders are connected, LAPD undercover detective Ray Fanning (Mark Ruffalo) is there too – in pursuit of the murderer.

Despite the presence of cops, Vincent shoots down the man he is after, along with a bunch of bodyguards. Wrapping up the rumble in the nightclub, Vincent again forces Max to get into the car and continue driving. Now, all that concerns him in LA is the fifth target.

What happens during the final portion of Vincent’s task?

After the nightclub incident, Vincent and Max are back on the road, however, the situation is much tenser now. The unexpected duo gets into a verbal fight, and Max, in a fit of rage, deliberately crashes the car. Vincent escapes before a cop arrives and tries to arrest Max after finding the corpse in the trunk.

Max who has so far been cooperating with the cop, notices in Vincent’s open laptop that his final target is none but the lady who booked his taxi before Vincent. Aware she is a nice working lady, Max is determined to save her life no matter the consequences. He overpowers the arresting cop and bolts towards Annie’s building.

Vincent is in Annie’s building – prepared to close the Los Angeles chapter. However, before he can do any harm to Annie, Max interrupts him and escapes with Anne to the nearby metro station and they board a train. Vincent also boards the same train – in a rather stylish way. Not able to locate the couple inside the train, Vincent looks for them from compartment to compartment before eventually being shot by Max.


What does the ending really mean?

At first, it seems like a pretty standard ending. But the real meaning is hidden among the words Vincent and Max exchange during their time on the road. Vincent is a fierce man – having a tunnel vision for his job. On the other hand, Max is an easy-going man who doesn’t want to bother anybody – even if they don’t treat him well.

The relationship between the two is a bit tricky to understand. In a way, Vincent is indirectly telling Max to do the opposite of what he does. Upon noticing Max being treated like a piece of dirt by his boss, he teaches him the right way to tackle such people. Similarly, he asks Max to be nice to his mother, and stand up for himself in tough moments. And though he regularly threatened him, Vincent never once used violence against Max – not even when Max destroyed his briefcase.

In the end, Vincent screams that he is doing everything to make a living. And, when Max shoots him, he has a very content appearance – as if he is okay with his fate, his death. Or maybe he is just glad to see Max employing in real life the lessons he taught him.

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4 thoughts on “Collateral (2004) Ending Explained – What does the ending really mean?”

  1. I cannot understand the last line Tom says in the final scene to Max can someone pleaseeeeee help me! What does he say? The dialogue is so hard to understand!

  2. Good take but there’s more. A major part of the film is hypocrisy and how it affects us. Vincent, the “go with the flow” hitman, loves Jazz, an improvisational genre, and constantly goes on about living life in the moment. Max, however, is all about control, thinking it will get him to the point he can achieve his dreams, but its holding him back.

    The critical moment in the finale is when Max begins to shift beyond his hypocrisy of his control benefiting him and then starts fighting back as he can. Vincent, however, laser focuses on Max and completing his assignment. The shootout at the end reveals the hypocrisy of Vincent and the growth of Max. For all Vincent’s talk of improve, he was rigid in his shooting and its mentioned a few times (two to the chest, one to the head). As they shoot between the doors, Vincent relies on muscle memory and follows through, hitting the doors and missing Max (this is deliberately shown by the marks on the door). Max, however, throws it all to the wind, letting go of control, and randomly lands a fatal blow on Vincent. Vincent’s hypocrisy led to his demise. Max overcame his hypocrisy and grew, leading to his survival.

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