Plot: What’s it about?
I’ve been a fan of Will Smith for years. I used to watch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air back in high school and have followed his movie career since his early films. Smith has done well for himself. Not many rappers have managed to make the turn to movie star (an Academy Award nominated one at that), but Smith has made it look easy. His career has turned from action films like Independence Day and Bad Boys to comedy (Hitch) to some more grounded and somber films (The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds). And the last few years he’s been all over the map with his appearance in Suicide Squad and as a con man in Focus. Truth is, there’s not a lot for Will Smith to prove. Collateral Beauty sees him in a star-studded cast as a grieving father. Is this the Will Smith we want to see?
Smith plays Howard, half owner of a successful NYC ad agency and the charismatic spirit behind its grown and success. He preaches his values: love, time and death like they’re gospel. But we flash forward three years to see him a shadow of his former self. He’s lost his 6 year old daughter and still shows up to work in body, but not mind. The “big account” is having second thoughts about their continuing relationship with the agency and is considering pulling the plug. This will spell the end for Howard and his fellow executives: Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña). These thee concoct a plan to hire some actors to confront Howard (he’s been writing letters to death, time and love) and the hope is that they can get evidence that he’s not mentally fit to make company decisions. Don’t worry, the trio have nothing but the best intentions in mind and each has their own sob story so you don’t feel too bad for them. Whit cheated on his wife and now has an estranged relationship with his daughter, Simon has cancer and refuses to tell anyone about it and Claire has focused too much on her career that she might have missed the opportunity, biologically-speaking, to become a mother. The plan is to gaslight Howard and the company is sold and the day is saved.
The old saying “with friends like these, who needs enemies” comes to mind. I couldn’t fathom losing a child so I can’t sympathize with Smith’s character, but there seems to be a more nefarious plan at work in this film. Certainly there are moments that might even make you cry and the entire film seems to be caught up in providing all the stars with enough screen time to justify their respective salaries. Lost in the shuffle is Naomie Harris who plays a grief counselor. Love and loss sometimes go hand in hand, but here there just seems to be a misfire in the execution. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good performances (is Helen Mirren ever bad?), but as a whole this thing turns out to be somewhat of a mess. Even at 96 minutes, this had me looking at my watch. Each of the actors has done far better work – watch one of their other movies instead.
Video: How’s it look?
If you’ve ever wanted to see New York at its loveliest (that’s to say – during the holiday season), well look no further. Presented in a glossy 2.40:1 image by Maryse Alberti, the movie makes great use of New York locations, covering a variety of neighborhoods and capturing the city’s iconic features without resorting to postcard images. Everywhere you look, lights twinkle, everything is decorated to a tee and it all looks so lovely. Black levels are spot on and contrast is strong. Detail is top notch as well, Smith’s “mourning” look features specs of grey. The production and set designers must have had a field day to make the city that never sleeps look this good.
Audio: How’s it sound?
I didn’t get a lot out of the DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. It’s there, to be sure, but this isn’t the kind of movie that will wow with its audio. Vocals are pure and crisp, there’s no denying that, but there seems to be a brooding, somber quality to the entire mix that left me wanting a bit more. Still, there is an ambiance that I couldn’t deny, it’s just that I wasn’t caught up enough in the film to really get the “experience” out of the surround mix. No real complaints, but no real kudos either.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- A Modern Fable: Discovering Collateral Beauty – The only supplement on this disc is a fairly straight-forward EPK with some interviews with the rather robust ensemble cast as well as writer Allen Loeb and director David Frankel (each seem very pleased with their work). There’s not a lot of insight into the film, rather it’s your usual array of talking heads, what lead them to the script and so forth. Running at 15 minutes, it’s a touch longer than your standard feature, but doesn’t use that extra time to blow us away.
The Bottom Line
Collateral Beauty isn’t lacking in star power, that much is true. I believe, at one point in time, this had potential to be a very emotional and moving film. But somewhere along the line, that was lost and what we have is all that’s left. I had read some other reviews and I don’t think it’s quite as bad as everyone says, but there are certainly others out there that address the same subject and do it better.