'Collateral'

Studio: DreamWorks (released Aug. 6)

Category: Original

Storyline: An L.A. cab driver whose life is stuck in neutral (Jamie Foxx) discovers that his passenger (Tom Cruise) is a hired assassin who intends to force him, at gunpoint, to drive him to each of of the five murders he plans to commit before dawn.

About the script: A native of Australia, Beattie wrote his first draft in 1991, after a cab ride home from the airport sparked the idea. He was waiting tables in L.A. when he spotted Julie Richardson, a producer he’d met at UCLA, and decided to pitch his script. First HBO, and then DreamWorks bought the project, which evolved through several drafts. “The structure stayed remarkably the same,” says Beattie. “It was always about a cabbie who goes from avoiding confrontation in his life to being the one who would try to stop this guy from killing the last witness. I like simple stories, because it gives you, literally, pages that you can use to get deeper into character.” During 12 years in L.A., says Beattie, “I noticed that in a city with this many people there is a distinct devaluing of human life. I began to think about what that means, and finding a way to say it in the story.”

Biggest challenge: “To keep the plot from being episodic. You know he’s going to kill five people, and the danger was that you could just be going from hit to hit, and that would be boring. I had to find ways to keep the plot twisting and unpredictable, and keep you on edge — things like putting them in a jazz club, and you’re thinking, ‘what the hell are we doing in a jazz club?’ and then, ‘oh, now I get it.’ ”

Breakthrough idea: “I had this wacky idea: How about if Max (Foxx) goes to see his mother in the hospital? There could be one point where the hit man puts down his gun, and the cabbie would get up the guts to do something, in front of his mom. He steals the briefcase, and suddenly we’ve changed the direction and raised the stakes to another level.”

Standout scene: “The sequence that ends when Max rolls the cab (a spectacular crash). It’s the climax of his character at that point — he’s finally realized that enough is enough, he’s been living his life wrong, and he’s going to risk his life to stop this guy from taking out that last person. The cab is a complete crutch to him, so for him to destroy it… it’s an action scene that defines his character.”

Choice lines: Max, after a dead man falls from a window onto the roof of his cab: “You killed him!” Vincent: “No, I shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him.” (Beattie: “It expresses his sociopathic mindset, his detachment.”)

Writers’ bio: Beattie won UCLA Extension’s Diane Thomas screenwriting award in 1994. Three years later, his debut film “Joey” won Australia’s People’s Choice award. He shared story credit on “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and recently adapted horror comic “30 Days of Night” for director Sam Raimi.

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