Movie Review: Collateral Beauty (2016)
“We are all connected”
Collateral Beauty (2016)
Director: David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet
Synopsis: A man’s friends go to extraordinary lengths to lift him from the depths of depression following the death of his young daughter.
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We all cope with grief in different ways, but there can’t be many who do so by obsessively constructing domino cities in their workplace which, once completed, they then topple over without even bothering to admire the spectacle of its synchronised cascade effect. Unfortunately, such heavy-handed symbolism is symptomatic of Collateral Beauty’s pile-driver approach to what is presumably supposed to be a gentle, uplifting story. The unorthodox coping mechanism mentioned above is adopted by Howard (Will Smith – Concussion, Suicide Squad), a high-flying advertising executive whose withdrawal from the world following the death of his six-year-old daughter seems a little half-hearted considering he still shows up for work each day – even if it is only to silently construct those elaborate cities while his worried friends and colleagues look on. Although her death is clearly the all-consuming focus of Howard’s life, he’s unable to vocalise his grief, and chooses instead to find some emotional release by expressing his feelings in letters to ‘Love’, ‘Time’, and ‘Death,’ the concepts that he believes have betrayed him.
It’s two years since his daughter died, and the once thriving company is now on its knees, despite the best efforts of Howard’s friends and partners, Whit (Edward Norton – The Dictator, Moonrise Kingdom), Claire (Kate Winslet – Contagion, Divergent), and Simon (Michael Pena – Ant-Man, War on Everyone), all of whom are coping with personal issues of their own. In desperation, they hire a private detective to follow their friend in the hope of finding some way to help him out of the depression that has gripped him, and it is she who informs them about his peculiar writing habits. This news gives Whit the bright idea of – wait for it! – hiring actors to play the parts of Love, Time and Death in the hope that a visit from each of them will shake Howard from his depression. How, one has to ask, could such a plan possibly fail?
Naturally, it’s at this point that we as an audience permanently part company from our suspension of disbelief. Let’s face it, nobody in the real world would even consider such a ludicrous scheme as a realistic escape route from their problem – and few in a fictional movie universe would either. It’s a stupid idea which serves as a forewarning of the disastrous direction in which the movie is headed. One can only assume that, if writer Allan Loeb had any misgivings at all about the strange turn his story takes, he believed it could be salvaged by a heartwarming ending that’s vaguely reminiscent of – but in no way equal to – It’s a Wonderful Life. If that is the case, then he misjudged badly; Collateral Beauty’s story is far too contrived, and its various plots strands are tied with the kind of surgical precision that puts one in mind of items on a checklist being ticked off one by one. The film is already on its knees before the final reel, and a last minute flurry of plot twists kills it off completely.
Collateral Beauty does at least boast a first rate cast – in addition to those actors already mentioned, the trio of actors employed to play Love, Time and Death include Kiera Knightley (London Boulevard, The Imitation Game) and Helen Mirren (RED, Eye in the Sky), while Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Spectre) plays the host of a support group for grieving parents – that can’t be faulted for their commitment to the film. Unfortunately, their heartfelt performances can’t overcome Collateral Beauty’s maudlin, over-sentimental plot.
(Reviewed 17th March 2017)