Every once in a while a film comes along that urges you to totally re-evaluate everything you think you know about cinema. Will Smith’s newest blockbuster Collateral Beauty follows the grieving process of Smith’s character ‘Howard’, how he deals with the death of his daughter and how his reaction impacts the lives of people around him. A simple enough synopsis and an incredibly impressive line-up of supporting A-List actors… what could possibly go wrong?
Everything. Everything goes wrong.
Cutting straight to the chase, the failure of this film is due to one factor and one factor alone: the premise of the film is so offensively bad and ill-conceived it defies all logic. To its credit, the film does pretend to be about a grieving father’s pain for at least the first five minutes, but quickly switches the focus to Howard’s three colleagues; portrayed by Edward Norton, Michael Pena and Kate Winslet, who hatch a plan to take advantage of their mourning friend’s fragile mind by hiring actors to convince both Howard and the board of officials that he’s lost his mind for their own financial gain. Actually.
Now it is not as though the performances of this film are bad, quite the contrary. The entire cast are all proven masters of their craft – and without question perform admirably with the material they are presented with, it is just that the characters they portray are so thinly defined and have no concept of morals. Instead of spending time fleshing out its characters, the film instead attributes each of them with their own ‘sob story scenario’ as a bid to justify their manipulation. Readers will remember my praise of Passengers earlier in the year which included a similarly inexcusable decision. The difference between these two films is not within the actions that their characters made, but instead how the film presents them. In one of the movies the inexcusable is treated as exactly that, rightfully condemned and with lasting consequences for its characters both mentally and physically. The other is Collateral Beauty.
The narrative’s third and final act is perhaps its most problematic and nauseating. Please be advised the following paragraph contains the discussion of a number of crucial plot revelations from the film – those wishing to avoid spoilers should skip ahead. Going through with their plan to manipulate and corrupt the sanity of their grieving “best friend and mentor” for financial gain, the three co-workers very quickly succeed with little to no personal consequence totally validating their unforgivable actions – and sickeningly romanticising them. From this point the narrative deteriorates further by including a further TWO totally unnecessary, unsubstantial and utterly forced plot ‘twists’ within the final two minutes of the film in some half hearted attempt to be ‘original’ and ‘unpredictable’.
By the film’s conclusion, there’s no doubt that you will be left in utter confusion as to how this movie was ever green lit. I say confusion because there are truly a lot of talented creatives behind the production of Collateral Beauty – both in front of and behind the camera, which only works to further baffle. From a technical point of view Collateral Beauty excels, with a number of stunning visual sequences that both compliments the attempted aesthetic of the film as well as offering the audience opportunity to take time and reflect throughout the duration. Composer Theodore Shapiro similarly impresses with a score that moves even the most critical of viewers to the edge of an emotional reaction, which given the actions being played out on screen is no small feat. Never before has a film been so undeserving of the talent behind its creation.
However noble its intentions, Collateral Beauty is a film that collapses under its own toxic narrative and unintentionally becomes the most hysterical comedy of the year. After it crosses its fourth “point of no return” it forfeits any chance of the audience taking it seriously and instead only works to perplex and anger. It is this movie’s inability to embody even an inch of subtly and sensitivity that seals its fate as one of the most unredeemable films I’ve ever had the pleasure of tearing to the ground.