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Okay, look, here's the deal. Man, you were gonna drive me around tonight, never be the wiser, but El Gordo got in front of a window, did his high dive, we're into Plan B. Still breathing? Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.
Max (Jamie Foxx) is a cabbie living in L.A. with big dreams of opening his own limo company and catering to rich, important clients at some point. But without the motivation to take the risk and leave his job, he's just wafting through life. He can't even find the courage to call the cute attorney who gave him her card. He's stagnant. Until he picks up one fare that will change his life.
Enter Vincent (Tom Cruise). He is the chaotic counterpart to Max's carefully structured world. A jazz aficionado, he preaches Darwinism and improvisation. He's jaded by the city, hates the overpopulation and the filth. Oh yeah, and he also happens to be a hitman for a private military company. And for one night, they find themselves inescapably bound together.
- Abusive Parents: Vincent's father was an abusive alcoholic. It can be taken as an attempt of manipulation on Vincent's part to get Max to do his bidding, but Word of God confirms that it was a rare moment of honesty on his part, that he quickly tries to cover up.
- All There in the Manual: If you listen to the DVD commentary and the bonus features, you'll find out more about Vincent's background, including where he grew up and the significance of jazz to his character.
- The Anti-Nihilist: Max evolves into one as the film progresses, in contrast to Straw Nihilist Vincent.
- Asshole Victim: "You attract attention, you're going to get people killed who didn't need to be." But man, is it hard to feel sorry for those guys...
- Badass: Vincent of course. Max doesn't do too badly after he Takes A Few Levels In Badass.
- Badass Driver: Max
- Badass in a Nice Suit: Vincent's gray flannel suit
- Black and Nerdy: Max.
- Broken Heel: Averted. Annie does not remove her heels when she and Max flee from Vincent, and she never trips or falls.
- Cameo - Jason Statham's character from The Transporter pops up to deliver the workups on Vincent's targets.
- The Cartel: Felix, Vincent's employer
- Clock King: Max. Vincent is the exact opposite.
- Cut Apart: Vincent is looking for Annie, while she gets a phone call warning her about him. We see him bursting into her office, only to cut and see that she's several floors above.
- Deadpan Snarker: Vincent
- "No, I shot him. Bullets and the fall killed him."
- "What? I should only kill people after I get to know them?"
- "You no longer have the cleanest cab in La-La Land. You gotta live with that. Focus on the job. Drive."
- Also, Detective Fanning:
Sure... he's depressed so he jumps four stories out of a window onto his head. "Wow, that feels better." Picks himself up. "Now I think I'll go on with the rest of my day."
- Death by Irony: Vincent, for all his talk of adapting, I Ching, Darwin - acting as Chaos personified - exclusively uses the Mozambique Drill technique to eliminate his targets, allowing Max to get the better of him in a blind shoot-out.
- Determinator: One could make a strong case for both Max and Vincent.
- Dyeing for Your Art: Tom Cruise went gray to play Vincent
- Expecting Someone Taller: When meeting Max, posing as Vincent, Felix greets him with the words "I thought you'd be taller".
- This is even more hilarious if you remember that Tom Cruise is, in reality, pretty short.
- Faux Affably Evil: Vincent again. He's a vicious, cold-blooded killer, but there's something oddly likeable about him.
- Foreshadowing: Max, impersonating Vincent, threatens to take the gun away from Felix's henchman behind him and beat him with it. He does something very similar with a cop later.
- The reason Vincent was at Annie's building at the film's outset is that he was researching his final target (Annie, the prosecuting attorney).
- Freudian Excuse - Vincent was beaten by his alcoholic father, which helped turned him into the "badass sociopath" we know and love.
- Gambit Pileup: The club shootout devolves into one, in which six different factions are involved, all with wildly varying interests. The Feds think Max is Vincent, and try to arrest him while escorting Lin (Vincent's target) safely out of the building. LAPD Detective Ray Fanning knows something is up and that the Feds are acting prematurely, and tries to help Max. Max just wants to get through the whole thing alive, and also prevent Vincent from killing his mother if he fails. Vincent wants to kill Lin, while using Max as a decoy. Lin's security guards are just trying to protect their boss, are startled by the Feds rushing in with guns, and turn the thing into a shooting spree to start with. Felix's guards think Max is Vincent, and will kill him if things go wrong. Vincent comes out on top. The Feds are rendered useless by Lin’s bodyguards, Felix's guards are scared off by Vincent, he kills both Lin and his bodyguards, he kills Ray after Ray just escorted Max out of the building, and forces Max to continue driving him to his next target.
- The Gunslinger: Vincent is a type D - Quick Draw. It's even mentioned by one of the actors in the documentary at 3:00.
- Hitman with a Heart - Subverted. Vincent tries to convince Max he's this, saying he only kills bad people, thus "taking out the garbage." His daddy issues also serve to make him sympathetic. But then, Max learns the people Vincent's killing are witnesses for a case against a drug lord, and Vincent honestly has no qualms with it. We also learn from the cop that his MO is to take a taxi cab driver hostage to drive him around and then fake said driver's "suicide" after the other killings are done, implicating the dead man for the murder.
- Hope Spot - About two-thirds of the way through the film, Detective Fanning pulls Max away from a nightclub firefight to safety. He believes his story, looks like he's going to help solve all of Max's woes...then is gunned down by Vincent without a pause.
- Ironic Echo - Vincent's reliance on the efficient Mozambique Drill killing tactic allows Max to best him in a blind gunfight through a subway door with two windows and a solid metal center.
- Also, Vincent asks Max how long he's been doing the job, and if he gets any benefits. Max asks him the exact same thing, in reverse order, when he's about to impersonate Vincent.
- I'm Standing Right Here - This happens to Max at the hospital.
- Lack of Empathy: Vincent, throughout. Although, he does show a slight bit of regret after killing Daniel.
- Last Words -- "Hey, Max, a guy gets on the MTA here in LA and dies. Think anybody will notice?"
- Los Angeles - the setting for the movie; so prominent, it might as well be a character itself
- Man of Wealth and Taste - Vincent in his suit again
- Mugging the Monster: In one scene a couple of thugs steal a briefcase from a ziptied-up Max. Vincent confronts the two, one of whom brandishes a pistol right at him. A few double-taps to the chest and one in the head later, Vincent has his briefcase back.
- My Beloved Smother - Max's mother, Ida
- Nice Guy - Max. Very much so. He's quick to sympathise with people he's just met including Vincent's victims and goes out of his way to treat his customers well, even though driving a cab is "only temporary" for him. That treasured picture of a holiday resort he looks at whenever he needs to relax? He gives it to a stranger he's just met, because she's stressed out over her job and he can tell she needs it. Awwww.
- Order Versus Chaos - Vincent representing reaction and chaos taken to an extreme, while Max represents an almost obsessive level of order and control. In the end, a balance must be struck.
- Playing Against Type - Tom Cruise in only his second villain role.
- Private Military Contractors - It's hinted at in the movie and stated outright in the commentary that Vincent works for such a group
- Professional Killer - Vincent is an assassin, and a quite evil one at that.
- Sacrificial Lion - Vincent's first victim, also Detective Fanning, the only one who believed Max's story and could have saved him.
- Shown Their Work - According to the director, Vincent's job as an assassin requires him to get in and out of places without being recognized or remembered, so Tom Cruise prepared for the role by practicing making FedEx deliveries to a crowded LA marketplace without being recognised. He also underwent extensive martial arts and weapons training including shooting with live ammunition and how to perform the famous Mozambique Drill.
- Shut UP, Hannibal -- Max does this to Vincent when he crashes his cab.
- The Sociopath: Vincent is described as such in-story.
- Spiritual Successor: Arguably one for Heat as far as mood and setting go. Both are LA centered crime stories and end with the death of one of the two stars at the hands of the other.
Vincent: Someday? Someday my dream will come? One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life. Don't you talk to me about murder. All it ever took was a down payment on a Lincoln town car. That girl,you can't even call that girl. What the fuck are you still doing driving a cab?
- Or you can see Vincent as an Ubermensch, he is basically giving Max a vision of what his life could be like if he didn't play it safe all the time.
- The Taxi
- Took a Level In Badass - Max, about two thirds through the movie when he has to pretend to be Vincent in front of gangster Felix. You can actually see the exact point in the film where he levels.
- He then takes another level or two when he deliberately crashes the cab at top speed, and then when he goes to rescue the lawyer. Made even more moving by the fact that Max turns Vincent's Nietzsche Wannabe rhetoric on its head in something between a World of Cardboard Speech and a Shut UP, Hannibal moment just before the crash.
- The Unfettered: Vincent. Max, on the other hand, is strongest when protecting someone he cares about (even if they just met).
- What Do You Mean Its Not Symbolic?: The infamous coyote scene.