Collateral Beauty

Collateral Beauty


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Oscar-winning director David Frankel (Dear Diary) directs an all-star ensemble cast in a drama that features Will Smith, Edward Norton and Keira Knightley.... More

When successful New York advertising executive Howard Inlet (Smith) is sent on a downward spiral after experiencing a personal tragedy, his colleagues devise a plan to force him to confront his grief in a surprising and profoundly human way.Hide

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BY cinemusefilm superstar

Every now and then the movie commentariat gets it wrong. Bad movies earn bad reviews, but it is something else entirely when a movie that is not bad receives universal condemnation. Last year that honour went to Collateral Beauty (2016), the most misread movie of recent times. Ignoring the fact that its cast includes Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet and Keira Knightly, actors not known for lending their names to C-grade flops, the question must be put: why does this film get such a bum... More rap?

Some of the problem starts with the label on the product. When we buy a ticket to a contemporary ‘drama romance’ our senses are tuned for the usual genre tropes and conventions that help us interpret a film. If Collateral Beauty was labelled ‘magical realism’ the outcome might have been worse despite the more accurate label. This genre offers an essentially realistic view of life but it incorporates elements of magic, fantasy or the supernatural. Unprepared, viewers can misread the cues and thus mis-read the film. Put simply, Collateral Beauty is an essay on grief psychosis that is made bearable by framing its premise around magical realism.
At a superficial level, the plot is straightforward. Howard (Will Smith) used to be a charismatic leader of a very successful advertising agency until, two years ago, he lost his six-year old daughter. He cannot come to terms with her death, his marriage is shattered and the agency is in trouble, while he cannot even speak the words “my daughter Olivia died of cancer”. Seeking catharsis, he writes letters to three abstract entities, Death, Time, and Love. But his letters are intercepted by a private investigator hired by his colleagues who want to either shake him out of his depressive stupor or have him certified unfit to run the company. Three actors representing Death, Time, and Love are hired to confront Howard and goad him to externalise his suppressed grief. They convince him that nobody else can see them although each encounter is secretly filmed as evidence. Each of his three colleagues have personal dramas in their own lives, as do each of the three actors hired to confront him, and of course his therapist has problems of her own. In terms of narrative structure, films do not get more complicated than this.

If the structure is not sufficiently perplexing, there are frequent non-signposted transitions between layers of reality that leave viewers uncertain that what they are seeing is actually happening rather than a figment of a disturbed mind. Despite excellent acting from a stellar cast and a brisk pace of storytelling, this film presents insurmountable challenges for viewers wanting easy entertainment. However, what has been described by most critics as a total mess of a film is, for this reviewer, a lyrical fable of mixed realities that reflect the turmoil inside Howard’s head. When he first utters those words he could not speak, it is gut-wrenching.

If this film was re-imagined with the cast in 17th Century costumes and Howard as the innkeeper of the best establishment in the land, with the three actors, Death, Time, and Love played as ephemerals that materialised and then disappeared, it would be described as a universal tale of Shakespearean proportions. But instead, it is a highly original story in an age where originality is hard to find. It is also a complex, challenging, and deeply thought-provoking story capable of reaching deep inside your soul, if only you let it.Hide

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The Press Reviews

  • A strenuously uplifting Christmas awards-bait tearjerker. Full Review

  • The finished movie plays ... concertedly like a Serious Acting Vehicle for Smith, who's the least interesting component in a madly over-qualified cast. Full Review

  • At the end of it, I screamed the way polar bears are supposed to when they get their tongues frozen to the ice. Full Review

  • You'll ... struggle to accept that what you saw on that screen actually played in theaters, was funded and approved by distributors, took a month or so of the lives of those extraordinary actors. Full Review

  • This movie doesn't rise to the level of so-bad-it's-good. But no less impressively, perhaps, it's just bad enough that you actually wish it were worse. Full Review

  • The five stages of grief sometimes seem applicable to movie reviewing, except that I usually skip denial, rarely get around to acceptance and generally just settle into anger, which is where I am with "Collateral Beauty." Full Review

  • This saccharine, manipulative, cynical, brain-dead and virtually inhuman enterprise should be shown down the ages as a terrible example of just how much can still go wrong... Full Review

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