Desson Thomson Recommends

The fun of "Collateral," the current action movie starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx, is in the psychological tussle between them. It isn't enough that contract killer Vincent (Cruise) is forcing cabbie Max (Foxx) to be his getaway driver while he murders people. He's got to probe Max's psyche, too, focusing on his foibles and failures. He's that most formidable of adversaries: the one who knows you intimately. Here are three great movies that have also trod this turf:

Strangers on a Train (1951, 101 minutes) -- In this Alfred Hitchcock classic, Robert Walker (who here suggests a sort of 1950s Bill Murray) is Bruno Anthony, an engaging stranger who sidles up next to tennis pro Guy Haines (Farley Granger) on a train and suggests with oozy charm that he'll kill Guy's annoying wife if Guy returns the favor and offs Bruno's mom. It seems like some terrible joke. But when Bruno takes action to honor his end of the "contract," Guy realizes he's in the nightmare of his life. It's canny casting: Walker is much more appealing than the rather frigid Granger, which intentionally gives us a confused perspective. (Rated PG for some violence and tension)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991, 118 minutes) -- FBI agent Clarice Starling's manhunt for a psychotic killer who skins his victims becomes unforgettably unnerving when the young trainee (Jodie Foster) is dispatched to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). She finds a chilling sociopath who has a taste for human flesh and, worst of all, sees through Clarice's show of machismo. To find the killer, Clarice realizes she's going to have to withstand the searing, X-ray gaze of a man sensitive enough to understand her most private memories but savage enough to tear her to shreds if she were to reach into his cell. He's her ally from hell. (Rated R)

Play It Again, Sam (1972, 85 minutes) -- Woody Allen is the consummate romantic nerd, Allan Felix, who's completely clueless about how to score with women. An unusual, otherworldly presence decides to become his spiritual counselor: none other than Allan's movie idol, Humphrey Bogart. This Bogey in the shadows seems to know Allan's every weakness only too well. But when Allan tries to apply Bogey's postwar romantic techniques, he's a disaster. Best scene: Allan, attempting to be suave, gestures while holding a jazz LP -- only to send the disc whizzing out of its jacket and crashing into a wall. (Rated PG)

Farley Granger and Robert Walker in "Strangers on a Train."