Collateral Beauty



After the 20th century, life became way too complicated for anyone person, or school of thought, to contemplate. Science, art and politics all diversified into so many subcategories, philosophy failed to meld all of them into just one concept and explain. Films like this take romance way too seriously, and in a world where women and children die for petty unnecessary reasons, nothing could really be as dumb and insignificant as romance. 4 out of 10 stars


Philosophy is dead. This is because, after the 20th century, life became way too complicated for anyone person, or school of thought, to contemplate. Science, art, and politics all diversified into so many subcategories, philosophy failed to mold all of them into just one concept and explain. So, philosophy died, and entertainment, however crude it may sound, took its place.

 

When I first saw the trailer to Will Smith’s Collateral Beauty, I vowed I would never watch the movie. It seemed like one of those cheesy, soapy, tearjerker movies with very bad acting and dialogue. Films like this take romance way too seriously, and in a world where women and children die for petty unnecessary reasons, nothing could really be as dumb and insignificant as romance.

 

I am not a very lucky fellow. The film was screened at Matti Cinema, and I feel the need to write about whatever people are watching. This is not the type of film the multiplex usually screens – the favorites are action and superhero movies – so I was a bit perplexed. If they were open to dramas like this, then why not bring the far better La La Land or Manchester By the Sea?

 

Collateral Beauty mainly revolves around Howard (Will Smith), who has lost his child. The grief he feels for his loss engrosses him and he becomes unable to look after the company he built with his partner, Whit (Edward Norton). Whit and the company’s other major shareholders – Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña) – feel that if this goes on the company may disintegrate.

They hire a private investigator (PI), so as to prove he is mentally unfit to run the company. The PI finds out that Howard writes letters (who writes letters anymore?), not to people, but to “things” – namely, love, death and time. Howard is not the only one who is crazy, though; his colleagues are worse off. They hire actors to play those three entities in a scheme to record Howard conversing with them.

Collateral Beauty flaunts a very gifted ensemble cast. I have loved and appreciated Norton in almost every movie I have ever seen him. Some usually sight his performances in the 25th Hour and American History X as his best, but I have always thought it was with Fight Club (a film with themes in stark contrast to this one) that he out did himself.

And I will not deny Winslet her several Oscar nominated, acclaimed, roles throughout her career, but I usually find that she ends up in unappealingly doomed projects (this being one). The actors that are hired to play love and death are non-other than the astonishingly beautiful Keira Knightley and the esteemed Helen Mirren (who at 71 is strangely attractive), respectively.

What Smith does in this movie is called overacting. His performance could have worked in a TV movie, but this is the big screen, his various emotional facial expressions are just too much. I say this every time – when in a close-up, for a movie to be screened in theaters, do what Robert Bresson tells his actors to do, and act as minimally as possible.

But I sympathize with Smith to a certain degree; Collateral Beauty is a very hard film to do right by. The filmmakers set the bar too high for their own good. David Frankel, the director of the stylish The Devil Wears Prada, directs without much sympathy or detail towards the script (which contains a strange plot twist) written by Allan Loeb.

Love, death and time are some of the most complicated topics novelists, poets and playwrights have tried to discuss. And ever since the birth of Cinema, filmmakers have joined in the dialogue. The great Andrei Tarkovsky was probably the most interested in the concept of time. His films are all strangely lengthy, without being necessarily boring or having a long running time – he documents the passing of time itself, through photography and editing.

Very few have tinkered with the notion of love as much as the French masters, Marcel Carné (with his stunning Children of Paradise) and Jean Renoir. Love should not only be understood as romance or sex but love towards one’s occupation, family or community. Death has always been a tricky subject to illustrate in a movie but I believe Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus has been very effective.

I actually think all the three seemingly crucial entities of existence are overrated. What is Love but a mammalian drive, fueled by chemicals inside the brain, like thirst or hunger? What is death but the physical decaying of tissue into a different matter, and time but an illusion of space that manifests itself as the “conscious experience of duration” in our minds?

In keeping with these very same sentiments, Collateral Beauty should have had a little sense of humor, like Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Dr. Strangelove was a satire about nuclear escalation made in the height of the Cold War era. The anxiety towards mutually assured nuclear annihilation was so high during this time all Kubrick could think to do was to boldly jest about it. There are some good jokes in Frankel’s movie, but that is different from comedy. The film is too serious – it never understands that love, death and time are inconsequential to all but humans.



By Christian Tesfaye
Christian Tesfaye is a film critic whose interests run amok in both directions of print and celluloid/digital storytelling. He can be reached at christian.tesfaye@yahoo.com

Published on Jan 24,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 873]


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