Collateral Beauty online movie review - Takes various gambles ... most of which come off ultimately
Like any sensible cinemagoer, I don't want to know too much in advance, and am PARTICULARLY glad not to have heard beforehand how the critics panned "Collateral Beauty" - given that I feel - OVERALL - they were wrong to do so. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm more than happy to say positive things here.
It will be clear from that that I DO recognise how "CB" could have gone off the rails. But my conclusion, my gut feeling after actual exposure, is that IT DID NOT DO SO...
For literally a couple of minutes at the start of "Collateral Beauty", we get to see the Will Smith role we know and love. His Howard Inlet is assertive, sassy and smooth-talking, and the talk he's smoothest with concerns his marketing profession, at which he excels, and within which he feels greatest effectiveness will be achieved if activity is predicated on the ever-present nature in our lives of: love, time and death.
For the rest of the film (that's 90+ minutes of precious "time" that do not drag at all), we have a new side to Will Smith, as Howard's life continues in ruins, despite the passage of some time since the death of his young daughter, for whom his love remains strong, and his denial even stronger...
This was an acting challenge for Smith, and there are moments here when we feel he's not quite pulling it off. That's gamble 1 from Director David Frankel (and writer Allan Loeb), but ultimately, IMHO, Smith's work is good enough to meet audience expectations of the portrayal, and one thing Inlet has been doing (apart from domino chains) is penning cynical letters to his former buzzwords of love, time and death.
Now it's nearly Christmas, and 3 co-workers of Inlet's (Kate Winslett, Michael Peña and Edward Norton) decide that, if Dickens can have Marley's ghost call upon three spirits to change Scrooge, they can call upon 3 actors to confront and debate with Inlet in those roles of love, time and death! That's Gamble 2, as it's a bit whimsical, a bit James Stewart in the 1940s for 2017. For me it still works.
Gamble number 3 is also present here, as our three mates of Inlet's - each of whom has major sadness issues of his/her own - come to the conclusion that, if these strange encounters don't pull Inlet out of his fugue, they can at least be used to prove that he's mad and unfit to run his (their) company. That's a peculiar ambiguity, and circumstances quickly conspire to ensure that it's more likely to be the second purpose that will serve than the first. None of the three want Inlet's company to go down, and they're prepared to be ruthless to save their own necks, basically sympathetic to Inlet as they may be.
There's a tension in this plot-line certainly, but this doesn't ruin the film either. Indeed, the setting keeps being dragged back firmly into the no-nonsense world of contemporary New York, and some of the "Big Apple" shots are spectacular.
And so to love, time and death, as played respectively by Keira Knightley, Maze Runner veteran singer-dancer-actor Jacob Latimore, and star of stage and screen Dame Helen Mirren. Since Naomie Harris also has a key role to play outside of this main line, but in close connection with it, the significant British input into this film will be clear, though only Keira retains her accent, Mirren struggles just a little with her American one, while Harris does the job seamlessly...
As it turns out, each of our three figures has two encounters with Inlet (while Harris has several), but each encounter is short. Mostly "Love", "Time" and "Death" have just a couple of lines to deliver to him, often not even done with particularly tangible emotion. Yet, at the moment of delivery, this audience member had tears springing into his eyes without warning. Somewhere, somehow, (familiar) feelings of immense gravitas and importance had been summed up, and the effect was quite masterly. For my money, Latimore and Knightley are even better at this than Mirren, despite having less to say; but in general these are three fine performances - small as they may be in time-terms (that word again).
Which brings us to gamble no. 4 that this film takes - the biggest of all. The death of a child is heavy, and - as I've indicated - this not the only life sadness present in this movie.
Now a piece of this kind always faces three serious risks. Risk one is that the audience will experience such sadness that the effect of the story-telling instrument is blunted by over-emotion. Risk two is that there will be a rejection of melodrama, with audiences feeling goaded into ridiculing the content. In close connection with that, risk three is that people will feel their emotions have been exploited cynically.
Of these three risks, I think it is 3 that "Collateral Beauty" comes closest to facing, if emerging triumphantly , and also - narrowly - avoiding the other two risks.
Ultimately, "Collateral Beauty" keeps its feet in 2017, avoids ridiculous flights of fancy, conveys its message, and does not (quite) obscure that by descending into mawkish sentimentality. While (like the effective "Me Before You"), "Collateral Beauty" comes with Rom-Com packaging, it is drama, if not entirely humourless.
For me, this was uplifting overall, meaningful; skating on thin ice certainly, with its methods, but ultimately staying dry - unlike this reviewer's eyes, and those of most of his fellow cinema-goers, male and female.
"Collateral Beauty" has a large twist (which worked with me), and (probably) also a couple of other ones, which may only come into one's head as one leaves the cinema. This is then far from a forgettable piece, despite what critics seem to suggest.