A film review by Craig J. Koban December 30, 2016



2016, PG-13, 94 mins.


Will Smith as Howard Inlet  /  Kate Winslet as Claire  /  Edward Norton as Whit Yardsham  /  Michael Peņa as Simon  /  Keira Knightley as Aimee Moore  /  Helen Mirren as Brigitte  /  Jacob Latimore as Raffi  /  Naomie Harris as Madeleine

Directed by David Frankel  /  Written by Allan Loeb


Discussing this film in any detail will be impossible without going heavy into SPOILERS.  You've been warned. 

This movie is wrong.  

Just wrong.  

Horribly wrong.  

Shamefully wrong.  

Embarrassingly wrong.

It's wrong for having one of the most fraudulent trailer marketing campaigns in recent memory.  It's wrong because it uses very touchy and sensitive themes of child death, grief, cancer, adultery, and infertility as cheap tools to dispense would-be tear inducing melodrama (that, and it throws in the accoutrements of Christmas for good measure as well).  Worst of all, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is wrong for the manner it wastes the superlative talents of multiple award nominated and winning actors (almost too many to count) in a work of such pathetically obvious Oscar nomination bait that doesn't even have the decency to be any good.  I loathed the manner that this film lured me in and deceived me; it's indefensibly awful.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY features two Oscar winners in Kate Winslet  and Helen Mirren and three Oscar nominees in Will Smith, Keira Knightley, and Edward Norton.  These people ain't dummies.  They're all, in their own unique ways, thoughtful and intelligent performers that have usually shown great taste in respective projects.  On a level of proven acting talent, COLLATERAL BEAUTY should be, on paper, beyond promising.  Yet, the film plants these industry thespian heavyweights in a condescendingly contrived, logically flimsy, dramatically hollow, and insipidly plotted feel-good yuletide drama with a proverbial heart of gold that drove me more to vomit than cry while enduring it.  Yes, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is most certainly aiming for seasonal uplift of the highest order, but it unintentionally derives more disdainful laughter from audience members.  I would have loved to have watched a documentary about the making of this foolishly wrongheaded film featuring the actors individually relaying why they felt this was material worthy of their esteemed abilities.  

I really, really would. 



The trailers of this film...cheated.  They lied.  There's no other way to get around it, which is why I'm delving into spoiler territory here.  The game of bait and switch it plays wouldn't be so reprehensible if the resulting film that doesn't resemble the advertising campaign was worthy of our time.  What you need to know is this: Will Smith plays Howard Inlet, an incredibly successful New York ad man that has just recently suffered a horrendous tragedy.  His young 6-year-old daughter has died, leaving him an emotional mess.  A few years go by, but Howard retreats in social seclusion: he's divorced from his wife, lives in darkened despair in his tech-free apartment (no Internet, computers, or even a phone), and has retreated away from his business partners, Whit (Norton), Claire (Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena).  As he grieves, he writes letters to...time, love, and death (three pillars that previously formed the basis of his advertising business plans).  Miraculously, they assume human form and visit the startled Howard to respond to his letters.  


That's what the trailers are telling us. 

That's not what this film is about...at all.  

At.  All. 

COLLATERAL BEAUTY contains the same premise about Howard's loss, and he does indeed still write letters to time, love, and death...all of whom, yes, assume human form and visit him.  That's where the similarities end.  It appears that Howard's company - which he has a 60 per cent ownership say in - is struggling, leaving his partners in Whit, Claire, and Simon wanting to sell.  They do get a very lucrative offer that would require all of them to sign off on, but Howard's fractured mental state might make this an impossibility.  Whit then launches a fiendishly cruel plan: After finding out about Howard's letter writing, he decides to hire three local actors (Mirren, Knightley, and Jacob Latimore) to pose as death, love, and time respectively.  Whit then employs a private eye to secretly record Howard's crazy interactions with them, which he thinks will convince their company's shareholders of Howard's unfit mental state, allowing the rest of the owners to sell the company without him. 

Dear.  Lord.  In.  Heaven. 

Where do I even start with relaying the sins of this film?  For starters, Whit, Claire and Simon are three of the most toxically dislikable characters in any film I've seen as of late.  They prey upon a man that's clearly battling through prolonged grief after having lost his child and they use that against him when he's at his lowest point in life...for financial gain.  Now, a normal film would have been content to delineate these despicable human beings as such, but the manner that the script for COLLATERAL BEAUTY takes laborious pains to make us feel pity for them is borderline offensive.  We learn that Simon is suffering from inoperable cancer and his dying.  We learn that Claire desperately wants a child, but is infertile.  And we learn that Whit wants to stay connected with an estranged daughter who doesn't love him anymore.  This is screenwriting at its most egregious for the way that it's trying to justify the actions of these repellent gold diggers because - gosh darn it - they have relatable problems too.  

Yeah...I call bull shit on that. 

For a film that's trying to being a morally inspirational tale of redemption that's emotionally grounded with sympathetic personas, COLLATERAL BEAUTY is, by contrast and in actuality, as phony as a three dollar bill.  The premise here is pure science fiction.  It's been established that Howard is one of the most brilliant advertising minds in his field, but it doesn't say much regarding his intellectual faculties - or good ol' common sense - when he seems to readily buy into the notion that the actors are actually the spiritual embodiments of love, time, and death.  This is cemented by Whit, Claire, and Simon helping to sell the illusion that the actors can't be seen by other people around poor Howard, but do they also coerce with every other person around Howard that interacts with him on the street, in the office, and so forth?  Very little, if anything, that happens in COLLATERAL BEAUTY feels like it could actually happen on a normal plane of existence.  The overall narrative arc presented is ultimately ridiculous: it doesn't hold up to modest scrutiny.  The fact that Smith gives it his performance in playing Howard means that (a) he honestly couldn't comprehend the mind blowing stupidity of the story this character occupied or (b) he was so driven by yet another late December release Oscar nomination push film that he simply turned a blind eye to this film's multitude of damning issues. 

Perhaps the most inexcusable creative choice that his film makes is that in hammers in not one, not two, but three would-be shocking plot twits in its final moments, all of which utterly fail to even work within the already feeble rules that the story has established.  I've rarely seen a bad film crash and burn beyond recognition during its final shot as much as COLLATERAL BEAUTY, which has a reveal that's one big collective pompous slap to the faces of filmgoers.  It simply doesn't play fair.  This film advertises itself as a soulful drama featuring divine inspiration, then only to make an abrupt about face and spit on those spiritual aspects by concluding on a notion that, yup, there was some heavenly intervention in everyone's lives right from the very beginning.  By the time the film faded to black and the end credits started rolling by I wanted to throw something at the screen in petty disgust. 

I rarely give out zero star ratings, especially to films as front loaded with laudable actors as much as COLLATERAL BEAUTY.  I typically only dish out that rating to films that are wretched, but are also offensive.  This movie is both.  It wantonly disrespects viewers in irredeemable ways, especially those that have suffered through paralyzing grief and loss in their own lives.  That, and its deceptive trash.  Amusingly, Warner Brothers was campaigning this film for multiple Oscar nomination consideration.  

They have now removed it from such consideration.   

That I applaud.  This film...I cannot.


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