Oh boy… this movie.
Alright, so I would say like most people, this looked pretty good at first glance. I mean, Will Smith? Kate Winslet? Edward Norton? Helen Mirren? Kiera Knightley? This was a concentration of Oscar-winning (or nominated) talent. The story didn’t seem that bad either, the story of a man who loses his daughter, stops caring about everything, his friends try to help to no avail, and then the personified forces that binds people together come to him to help him find peace with his life. How could this possibly sound bad? It actually sounds pretty creative and moving, doesn’t it?
And then the reviews came out, and… it’s been getting worse than bad reviews. I won’t pretend to have read these reviews in depth, only getting a look at the ratings, but it seems universally panned by both movie-goers and critics.
But… but… Will Smith! Helen Mirren! Kate Winslet! Just… how??? No… no, all of you are wrong! There’s poetry that all of you are missing!! All you movie snobs and hoity toity GODFATHER lovers, you just can’t handle the raw emotions that is this movie has to have! That’s the explanation! And I’m going to prove every last one of you wrong!
Well… that cast, though. Everyone’s a fan of Smith. From his clean rap, to TV show FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR, to MEN IN BLACK (1997), BAD BOYS (1995), he’s an acting giant with popularity that practically defined a generation and continues to do so. Granted, it’s not like he’s done exclusively good movies, there’s some bad ones. MIB II (2002), WILD WILD WEST (1999), and AFTER EARTH (2013), we knew his feet were made of clay, but… it’s so rare that fans have to face that reality. Mirren… whatever you can say about Smith, Mirren is that on steroids. That’s not a jab at her age, it’s an acknowledgment of how timeless she’s become. She has an elegant presence in every performance that makes you pay attention. She’s about the best of the best actresses out there and her name on any movie, from EAGLE EYE (2016), to RED 2 (2013), to THE QUEEN (2006), you know you’re going to get a quality show from her. And Norton, who is notorious for being in only movies that challenge him as an actor, who is a perfectionist as an artist (making frequent appearances in “actors that are difficult to work with” lists). If Norton says yes to a script, then he’s seeing something worth being a part of. FIGHT CLUB (1999), AMERICAN HISTORY X (1998), BIRDMAN (2014), he’s got a rarer list of failures than even Smith. There’s too many names to go through, but I think everyone gets the point.
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is David Frankel, known for THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006), MARLEY AND ME (2008), and HOPE SPRINGS (2012). Writing the script is Alan Loeb, known for ROCK OF AGES (2012), JUST GO WITH IT (2011), and THE DILEMMA (2011). Composing the music is Theodore Shapiro, known for GHOSTBUSTERS (2016), TROPIC THUNDER (2008), and SPY (2015). Finally, the cinematographer is Maryse Alberti, known for THE WRESTLER (2008), CREED (2015), and THE VISIT (2015).
Overall… man, I don’t know what to think. I guess I’m about to find out. This is my God’s honest opinion of COLLATERAL BEAUTY.
Howard (Will Smith) is a man whose young daughter tragically passed away and has detached himself from everything else around him. His friends and co-workers are concerned because the job they work at is in trouble. If a deal isn’t successful, then everyone will lose their jobs. In a desperate attempt to get Howard to snap out of it, they hire three actors to pose as Howard’s personified subjects that he sends letters to: love, death, and time.
Did you read my summary? Did you also watch the trailer to this movie? Did you suddenly feel like these were two different movies and the trailer looked like a better movie than the one I just described? Yeah, SO DID I!!! Holy shit, was this ever misleading. I mean… holy shit! What went wrong, you might ask? You can already piece one thing together. The trailer make the story out to be a subtle fantasy/drama. Almost a non-Christmas take on “A Christmas Carol,” with the three ghosts trying to cheer up Smith’s character about the death of his daughter. It’s actually not a bad premise. But what do we get instead? Let’s run through it all. Prepare for a rant because there’s so much to say.
Let’s start with Howard’s best friends, Wit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña). All three of these characters are unlikable. Wit is supposed to be Howard’s best friend, but he seems to be the most detached. There’s this whole thing that the company is about to go under, and that’s what he seems to be most concerned about. So in order to snap Howard out of his depression, he hatches that idea to hire actors to pose as these entities. This… is really messed up and insane. I mean, who would do something that insensitive? Are there business protocols put in place for situations like this? If the owner of a company isn’t mentally sound enough to run it, he has subordinates that take that responsibility. To have something so elaborate and borderline juvenile… what words can one possibly have? But more than that, he has a side story. Yeah, this douche bag has a life that the audience is supposed to care about. Well, to be fair, it is a sad one. Yeah… it’s so sad that he cheated on his wife with a younger woman, and when his emotionally hurt daughter, barely ten years old, makes it clear that she’s upset with him… it breaks your heart to see Wit so distraught… that he goes back to work completely unaffected by the events that transpired with his daughter. Just talking about it brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? *SARCASM*
I suppose Claire and Simon are lesser offenders, but notice how I say “lesser.” They go along with Wit’s messed up plans and Claire even offers to pay the actors the full amount they ask for, which is like, what, some thousands of dollars for each actor? I don’t remember, it was an outrageous amount. She’s also written to be the one character that is most sympathetic to Howard, but when you are just as involved with these crazy plans, you lose all credibility. Being bland certainly doesn’t help. Next is Simon, who also has a side story. I won’t spoil this, though lord knows no one would really care, but do you notice another problem with this movie? Look how many side stories there are. The focus, from both the trailers and the opening minutes of the film, should be about Howard. But this movie is so desperate for emotional investment from the audience that they’ll give everyone sob stories that it actually becomes annoying. Worse, it’s unfocused. If this is supposed to be one of those multiple-stories type movies like LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) or CRASH (2004), then you can’t make it out like one character is the focus and then spend so much time on the secondary characters.
Now for the hired actors, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), Raffi (Jacob Latimore), and Amy (Keira Knightley). They’re despicable characters too. Brigitte is going alone with this whole thing because she sees it as a means of expanding her acting abilities. Yeah, not to help a man get over a terrible tragedy in his life (again, even if that were the motivations, it’s not an ideal means of going about it), but to showcase her talent. Yeah, so likable and relatable! Now for Amy. This movie was so close to having a good, solid character. When Wit has everyone gathered to talk about the specifics of his “screw with a man’s emotions” plan, Amy is the one character that is so disgusted with the notion that she actually walks out of the room.
For the first time in this movie, I was so happy to see another person act like a real person. It was like the big man upstairs parted the clouds, reached down, and with the gentlest of hands, grabbed my shoulder, and whispered in my ear, “Everything will be okay. Keira will save this movie.” I suddenly felt safe… and hopeful.
And then… it takes the most magnificent swan dive from the top of the ugly tree and hits every Satan-blessed branch all the way down… finishing with a “perfect ten” face-plant into the rocky gravel below resulting in not a horribly disfigured diver, but a grotesque puddle of mush. Not only does money eventually sway Amy over to going along with this, but she even develops an unbearably forced romance with Wit. With… Wit. The most unlikable character of the three best friends, and she gets charmed by him.
And Raffi? Um… first of all, who’s Jacob Latimore? When standing next to acting giant Mirren and wildly popular Knightley, Latimore is completely forgettable. No offense to the man (Apparently, he’s a singer. Sorry, I don’t listen to much music.). But as for the character… yeah, I think I remember him being another asshole. That was it. Considering how everyone in this movie is an asshole, I’d say being the forgotten asshole is a blessing.
But wait, I haven’t talk about Howard yet! Surly Smith is the true saving grace of this picture. Well… To be completely fair, the movie isn’t devoid of good acting. Even though the characters are horrendously written, the actors are trying their hardest to make it work, but that actually hurts the film and Smith is no exception. There’s this scene where he’s on the subway, and he snaps at Brigitte, who he thinks is death. But… the way he mocks his religious and philosophical findings at her is so awkward that it’s almost like his performance is supposed to be comical. Instead, it’s probably the most awkward performance Smith has ever delivered, and that’s saying something because I’ve seen both WILD WILD WEST and AFTER EARTH! At least his performances were consistent in those. Here, it’s baffling how inconsistent it is. But that doesn’t fully answer the question, is he the saving grace? No. He really isn’t because so much screen time is dedicated to the most unlikable characters in the film parading as Howard’s best friends. Even when he is on screen, he doesn’t get a line half the time. He just spends the majority of his scenes looking depressed. Hell, maybe at some point he knew this movie was going to be garbage and the director just didn’t bother trying to get him to feel anything else.
There are unfortunately people out there who have lost children, and this movie is almost saying, “screw you, the people around you matter more!” It lies and tells you that it has a heart and that it’ll make you feel, but this is far from the case. This film has no heart. It’s message is that it’s okay to lie to depressed people by making them feel crazy to force them to feel better about their downtrodden lives in order to make your own life easier, and even more sickeningly, profitable. That’s pure insanity. The more I think about this movie, the more insulting it gets. Fine, WILD WILD WEST is a failed comedy. Fine, AFTER EARTH is a failed sci-fi. Fine, MIB 2 is a failed sequel. Those happen. But what doesn’t happen is a movie that is supposed to have a strong and powerful message to give to the world, completely marinating it in poison, and gift-wrapping it to us thinking it knows a little something about humanity. Please, don’t see this movie. It’s rotten. Save your time, money, and gas. It’s not worth it.
My honest rating for COLLATERAL BEAUTY: 1/5