Starring Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley
1.5 STARS (out of 5)
The holiday season always seems to bring around a certain type of movie – for better or for worse – ones which attempt to inject cheer into our lives and to give us some festive spirit at the end of what may have been a trying year. 2016, certainly, has been an absolute rollercoaster – there’s been many ups and downs over the past twelve months that have driven some to despair and others to glory – and by the time December rolls around, we all just want a nice, easy watch that we can enjoy and leave cinemas that little bit happier from. While Collateral Beauty attempts to be a film that offers hope and solace on some of life’s most ravaging problems, it sadly lacks the bite it believes it to have.
Howard is a man with many personal demons – while he may have a successful career, he’s haunted by the death of his young daughter and, as such, has fallen into something of a depression. His friends and co-workers are concerned – and as he questions the motivations of the universe at large in the form of hand-written letters to entities such as death, love and time, events unfurl that enable him to better understand how we are all connected in our lives, and to gain a better understanding of what ‘collateral beauty’ really is. This transpires, as it goes, when he appears to be visited by the personifications of these entities in his everyday life.
It’s a fairly strange premise, and – not beating around the bush - it’s handled clumsily – anyone put off by the title alone, or indeed the idea of a man writing to the concepts of time and death will likely run screaming from the screen. This is a movie that truly, honestly, and fervently believes in itself, and more often than not does so to its absolute detriment – neglecting a working plot and character development in favour of its sentimental pursuit. It’s an idea that clearly borrows some influence from A Christmas Carol – it’s a story that’s so well-trodden most Western children would be able to retell it from memory by their teenage years – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but this is a movie that carries its message so heavy-handedly that it’s often hard not to roll one’s eyes throughout.
It, at least, benefits from a cast that boasts genuine talent and a host of household names – Smith is ever-reliable, if he does indeed appear to pick his roles rather strangely in recent years (Suicide Squad wasn’t the big hitter critically everyone expected and Independence Day Resurgence suffered from his absence) – while Mirren and Knightley can always be relied upon to offer gravitas in most situations. However, the criticism that I can agree with many critics on with regard to casting is that they’re not given that much to work with – while the premise is bizarre and it remains to be seen as a bad idea entirely, their talents are barely stretched. Mirren in particular is a seasoned actress who has earned her stripes with far better material and gives off the impression of boredom throughout. It’s not a great look.
Collateral Beauty - Official Trailer (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Collateral Beauty does spend much of its runtime insisting upon its message and does rather dawdle through the motions – offering little in the way of believable meat or genuine tension to propel its cast, nor its audience, on to the final act. As such, it just rather hangs there, in a dreamlike fashion, throwing elements around hoping that they stick – and any moments for high drama are often dodged around or omitted entirely, instead allowing the script to merely go through the motions. Some character moments are nothing short of baffling – Howard’s friends pull some rather odd moves which can hardly be considered relatable – and, as such, we don’t really have many characters we can cling to or can be inspired by. Kate Winslet is playing Kate Winslet. Edward Norton, Edward Norton. Helen Mirren, a bored Helen Mirren. Will Smith, admittedly, plays an emotional wreck to his advantage, but a movie should never have to ride on the coat-tails of its cast entirely. There are also swathes of cynicism that are so baffling I wish I was able to spoil them for you. Most of the time, it’s a trudge – and one that has moments of being truly mind-numbing.
All being said, Collateral Beauty may have fared better with a script that irons out the plotholes and spends less time wallowing in the conceit – giving us better characters, offering us genuine tension and moments of relief at the same time – instead, we have a film that offers a premise that is only delivered with the absolute minimum in film-making. It’s not a bad premise by any means – under alternative direction, script-writing and production (and perhaps a different title), Collateral Beauty would perhaps have been a completely different animal; a movie that succeeds in selling its message through genuinely captivating film-making as opposed to lacklustre insistence.
This is going to be a movie that will struggle to do well over the holiday period with Moana riding high, Star Wars Rogue One having just entered cinemas at the time of writing and with many more people likely to tune into more comfortable fare in movies such as Almost Christmas over the season – and while it has been pilloried as an absolute turkey by scores of critics in recent weeks, Collateral Beauty should perhaps only ever be remembered for what it truly is – a thorough disappointment. Despite a great cast and an intriguing premise, there really is far too little to dig into here, and what there is remains clouded by the movie’s own sentimental self-importance. Avoid.