Collateral Beauty (2016)

We are all connected

Sometimes you’ve got to wonder about Will Smith’s career choices. Admittedly, he made the right decision to pass on Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) for a chance to star in Suicide Squad (2016) — even if the anti-hero team-up turned out to be a bit of a bust — but his filmography of late has been rather substandard … and that’s putting it lightly. With stinkers such as Winter’s Tale (2014), Focus (2015) and After Earth (2013) tarnishing his once bankable name, it’s clear that Smith needs another box office hit. Sadly, Collateral Beauty ain’t it!

Yeah ... I'd totally tap that.
Yeah … I’d totally tap that.

One can argue that Smith is generally at his best when he’s showing off his unparalleled movie star charisma, playing that likable guy that we all wish we knew. While, yes, we get to see this Will Smith in Collateral Beauty, it only lasts about a minute, before he turns into a downright depressing bore who hardly says a word. With that noted, Will Smith plays Howard Inlet, the head of a highly successful New York advertising company who plunges into a hermitic state of depression after losing his 6-year-old daughter to a fatal illness. Having built his business on inspiring speeches about ‘Love, Time and Death’ — three abstract concepts that he believes connect every person on the Earth — the grief-stricken Howard now spends his days moping around, writing heated letters to his once great motivators (Love, Time and Death), blaming them for his misery.

Howard still pops into work every now and then, but spends all of his time alone in his modish office, constructing elaborate domino arrangements, only to knock them down and watch them topple over (a blatant, in-your-face metaphor for total collapse). Without Howard’s creative genius, his business begins to falter, his concerned friends and partners, Whit Yardshaw (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet) and Simon Scott (Michael Peña), opting to sell the firm to a bigger company in order to save their jobs. In spite of this, Howard refuses to discuss the matter with his associates, thus leaving their hands tied — given that he controls a large number of the agency’s shares.

Three strikes and you're out!
Three strikes and you’re out!

After concocting a childish, morally repulsive scheme to declare Howard as mentally unstable, which would allow his ‘friends’ to sell the company without his consent, the trio hire a group of struggling actors — Amy (Keira Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore) and Brigitte (Helen Mirren) — to masquerade as Love, Time and Death, respectively, to try and get their boss to reconnect with the world whilst confirming him as unfit to run the company. Their plan, to video the performers interacting with Howard in public places, then erase them from the footage to make it look as though he is talking to himself (or going cuckoo). Apart from the moral questions at play here, I’d imagine that completely erasing someone from a video recording would be rather costly and difficult to pull off without the proper tools.

Written by Allan Loeb, 21 (2008), Collateral Beauty’s ludicrous screenplay opts for the easy way out, merely presenting bereavement as opposed exploring it — the film, a well-meaning waste of both talent and time. To his credit, Loeb’s corny story does feature one surprising third-act twist, but this is undone right after, the movie concluding with a semi-ambiguous ending that throws the whole thing off. See, the final scene absurdly suggests that the actors portraying Love, Time and Death are, in fact, the real deal — personified concepts simply pretending to be performers (yep, it’s that ridiculous). And while the flick’s misleading trailer makes it look as though Collateral Beauty is a fully-fledged fantasy, this isn’t the case, with director David Frankel, The Devil Wears Prada (2006), undercutting any sense of ‘make-believe’ by gravitating too heavily towards earthbound realism.

You've got mail ...
You’ve got mail …

Moreover, the script gives Whit, Claire and Simon their own personal problems to deal with, each relating to Love, Time and Death, then pairs them off with one of the abstract concepts who helps them resolve said dilemmas — even if these conundrums are easily solvable without the aid of supernatural intervention. For instance, Winslet’s Claire has ignored her biological clock due to focusing too heavily on her career, with Time convincing her that it’s not too late to start a family, while Norton’s Whit is dealing with the repercussions of his philanderers actions, that have not only ruined his marriage but his relationship with his pre-pubescent daughter, Allison (Kylie Rogers), which Love teaches him how to repair. Then there’s Peña’s Simon who’s slowly dying, Death informing him that it’s probably a good idea to let his family know about his terminal cancer.

Apart from robbing us of the Will Smith we love (who’s also missing in action for large chunks at a time), Collateral Beauty’s overqualified cast do the best they can, given the wishy-washy material they’re dealing with. Naomie Harris, Southpaw (2015), is particularly good as Madeleine, a grief counselor who aids Howard in his painful time of need (having lost a child herself), whilst an underused Ann Dowd, Compliance (2012), has a great scene as Sally Price, a private investigator hired to track Howard’s erratic behavior.

Originally set to star Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara, Collateral Beauty could have been an entirely different movie had filmmaker Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), remained onboard — the 44-year-old exiting due to creative differences with the studio — the flick’s script, with its strange mix of comedy and despair, perhaps a better fit for Gomez-Rejon’s sensibilities.

'And tonight on Inside the Actors Studio ...'
‘And tonight on Inside the Actors Studio …’

Sporting a rather crisp production, Collateral Beauty looks particularly polished thanks to Creed (2015) cinematographer Maryse Alberti, who makes good use of New York’s snowy Christmas backdrop, and composer Theodore Shapiro, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), whose riveting score kept me from dozing off more than a couple times.

After enduring 97 minutes of a feature called Collateral Beauty, I’m still not one hundred percent sure as to the meaning behind the title. A character does spend some time attempting to explain it, but it’s never made clear (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention). I’m assuming it has something to do with finding moments of beauty and meaning in amongst the pain of a devastating loss, but again, I’m not entirely certain. What I am certain about, however, is that I’m not willing to revisit Collateral Beauty anytime soon to see if I’m right.

2.5 / 5 – Alright

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Collateral Beauty is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia