Collateral Beauty (2016)

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“What is your why?”

Movies make us feel, whether it’s through subtle means or choosing to be loud and rather confrontational. And some, like Collateral Beautychoose the most loathsome approach a film could follow. Here it’s transparent manipulation of a man so fragile he might as well be crystal stemware thrown against the wall. That’s not to say that method is unfavorable for all movies; there are, in fact, quite a few romantic comedies and thrillers which manipulate us as we watch them. But the reason why Collateral Beauty deserves a smack on the wrist, a punch to the jaw, and kick in the rear end is that it comes from a place of selfish folly. Telling a loved one a fib is excusable. Duping them with a little white lie can be forgiven over time. Intentionally deceiving them for your own benefit? That goes beyond reprehension.

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Howard (Will Smith), a successful executive at an ad agency, addresses his employees and coworkers through sermon. His version of a motivational speech brings up what he calls “the three abstractions.” Love, Time, Death. This side of Howard is magnetic. How could he not be? It’s Will Smith after all. But tragedy strikes, his young daughter dies, and Howard flips his life switch off and descends into isolated darkness (quite literally, his apartment dreary, drab, barely furnished, lit mostly by natural light.) The fate of the company is at risk and Howard won’t budge, let alone interact with other people. Days are spent building elaborate domino lines, visiting the dog park, biking into oncoming traffic. Meanwhile, the rest of the agency heads have their own issues. Whit (Edward Norton) slept around and lost the respect of his daughter; His problem is love. Claire (Kate Winslet) considers sperm donation; Her trouble is time. Simon’s (Michael Pena) cancer has come back with a vengeance; His nightmare is death.

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Spoiler alert from here on out. So what do his partners decide to do? After stealing his letters to the cosmos, they hire three actors to perform each roll. Death (Helen Mirren) is a snarky old British woman who dresses in purple. Time’s (Jacob Latimore) an irate, offended, young African-American teen. Love (Keira Knightley) has the face of a stern, self-serious angel. Their job is simple; interact with Howard while a private investigator (Ann Dowd) secretly videotapes. They’ll be edited out later on, the footage used to prove Howard’s unstable mental state, and his three “friends” will get their way. No good person could go through with such a schemed, malicious, backstabbing trick. Whit, Claire, and Simon already signify flawed representations of these three concepts, so why go the route of fraudulence? Dishonesty of this magnitude feels dirty.

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Smith’s mug might take up the most space on the poster, but Collateral Beauty really isn’t his movie. Most scenes find him quietly reflective or altogether absent, his ears sewn shut and his eyes glued forward. Rare occasions lead him to grief counseling with Madeleine (Naomie Harris, a big reveal plot line I seriously hope audiences will see coming.) Instead, the majority of the film dawdles around with the two trios; one set are philosophical entities brought to life, the others are saboteurs living in unholy states of sin. These people are worried about Howard, but only because they are more concerned with how his decisions might affect them. In Collateral Beauty, I comes before thee except when the person you’re lying to can see.

“This doesn’t feel right.”

Rating: 0 out of 5

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