Collateral Ending, Explained: Is Vincent Dead?

A lot can happen over the course of one night, and no one knows it better than the characters in ‘Collateral’ (2004). The film follows the story of Max, a cab driver, who impresses the people in his backseat by getting them to their destination as fast as possible. He knows all possible routes to a destination, judging which would be the best one to take, even if the passenger suggests otherwise. The fact that he is so good at his job makes Vincent hire Max for the rest of the night to help him get in time for four more stops, before dropping him off at the airport. Max accepts the offer, not knowing that Vincent is actually a hitman. Being in close proximity to such a dangerous person leads Max to some very tricky situations, but in the end, things happen in a way that seemed to have been foreshadowed in the beginning. Here, we analyze what the ending means for the characters of the film. SPOILERS AHEAD

Collateral Plot Synopsis

Max is on the night shift driving a cab around LA. He picks up a woman named Annie, and after a fun banter with her about which route would be the best to get to her destination in time, she and Max have a heartwarming chat about what they really want in their lives. They form an instant connection and Annie leaves her card with Max, in case he wants to talk again.

As soon as Annie leaves, a man named Vincent shows up. Max gets him to his destination in seven minutes, and Vincent is impressed by his accuracy. He offers Max double what he usually makes in one night to drive him around for four more stops. He says that he has to meet some friends, but it soon turns out that he is on a killing spree. Vincent has been hired by the mafia to kill witnesses who would or had testified against them in court, along with Annie, who is the prosecutor for the case. Now, it’s on Max to try and save the lives of the people who are on Vincent’s list, while also making sure that he himself survives the night.

Collateral Ending: Is Vincent Dead?

After a long night that doesn’t seem to end, Max decides that he has had enough of Vincent. He crashes the car, hoping that it will kill Vincent, or at least stop him in his tracks. However, both of them manage to come out of it unscathed. As a police officer approaches them, Vincent runs away, while Max is left behind. When the cop sees the dead body in the trunk, he becomes suspicious. At the same time, Max sees that the next person on Vincent’s agenda is Annie. He realizes that he will have to move fast if he wants to save her.

Annie receives a call from Max who warns her, just as Vincent enters her office. After a little hide and seek, Vincent finds Annie, but Max manages to save her and they both run away. The three of them end up on a train, and with no place to run or hide, it looks like Vincent just might finish the items on his rota after all. But then, something very interesting happens.

Over the course of the film, we discover that Vincent follows a pattern while killing his victims. He consistently sticks to the Mozambique drill, two to the chest, and one to the head technique to make sure he has subdued his victim. This is how Detective Fanning and the person at the morgue realize that they are dealing with just one shooter who is going around killing people. Vincent’s technique is a surefire way to kill his targets. He is not supposed to leave any of them alive, and the three shots make sure of that. He uses the same technique to shoot Max in the end, but he misjudges his surroundings.

While Vincent sticks to a pattern, we see a peculiar repetition in Max’s life as well. Whenever he gets his customers to their destination on time, he says he got “lucky with the lights”. It means that they met no red lights on the way, so they were never stuck in traffic and never had to stop. His customers consider it his humble behavior because clearly he knows the routes rather well and luck probably has nothing to do with his efficiency. In the end, however, it is Max’s luck that saves him.

After trying their best to run away from him, Max and Annie are cornered on the train. Vincent approaches them with the intent to kill and knowing that there is no other option, Max decides to take a stand. He has a gun and even though he is not trained, he fires all the rounds. At the same time, Vincent, pushed by his habit, shoots two to the chest and one to the head as soon as he sees Max. But, he forgets that there is a door between them, which is where all of his bullets go. Meanwhile, Vincent fires frantically and manages to get a lucky shot from between the glass of the doors.

In the end, with all his bullets spent and having sustained a fatal shot, Vincent admits defeat and sits down. He jokes to Max about the thing he’d said about LA when he first got into Max’s cab. A man dies on the train and everyone around him is so isolated that no one notices him. His body takes a few back-and-forth rides before someone realizes that he is dead. Vincent asks Max if someone will notice him too. As Max and Annie walk out of the train, we see Vincent’s body left behind in the train, waiting to be discovered. In a way, Vincent had foreshadowed his death, long before Max discovered that he was a hitman.

Did Vincent Plan to Kill Max?

Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures

When Vincent had offered him money to drive around LA, he didn’t mean for Max to be embroiled in his work. Or so he says. Vincent was supposed to keep things quiet, going around murdering people. But things get tricky when his first victim falls off the window and on Max’s cab. Vincent acts like it was an inconvenience that wasn’t meant to happen, but his actions over the course of the night show otherwise.

Before we realize that Max is going to end up dead like the rest of Vincent’s victims, we are given hints about his fate. Detective Fanning relates the death of his CI, Vincent’s first victim, to the case in Oakland where a cab driver had gone on an unmotivated killing spree. The detective on his case believed that there was someone else in the cab with him, someone who actually perpetrated the crimes. But there was no way to prove it because the cabbie had killed himself too. From the way things progress with Max, it looks like Vincent’s every move is directed at setting him up for the murders, and ending the streak with his death, making it look like suicide.

Vincent deliberately throws the body over Max’s cab, leaving irrefutable evidence that he was involved in the murder. Moreover, he leaves the body in the trunk of the cab, which means more proof against Max. He also pushes Max to do things against his behavior, like shouting at his boss and bringing flowers to his mother. To leave no doubt that he is the killer, he sends Max to meet with Felix, telling him to call himself Vincent. If things had gone as planned, Vincent would have killed all five people and then killed Max too. Just like Oakland, it would have looked like Max finally snapped. Shouting at his boss and killing people, showing up to meet the mafia boss, all this would point toward his guilt. The fact that he brought flowers for his mother that night, as opposed to every other night, would show that he was saying goodbye before killing himself. Because Max wouldn’t be alive to refute the claims, everyone would believe he was the murderer and Vincent would walk away, and none would be the wiser.

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