From the moment I saw the trailers for Collateral Beauty, I knew it was something I wanted to see. Will Smith has become an amazing actor in the days since the Fresh Prince oF Bel-Air. But more than that, he seems to pick projects that make you think. For every Men in Black or Independence Day, there’s a Seven Pounds or The Pursuit of Happyness. He balances entertainment with philosophy in equal amounts, and we are better for it.
Collateral Beauty is not a romantic comedy or visual feast of special effects. It’s about a man dealing with the loss of a child and the ripples that form around not only that event, but the fallout.
Due to its subject matter, this will likely not be a huge box office success. But it should quietly gain notice from the people who choose to give it attention. It’s a topic no parent wants to contemplate. I don’t want to outlive my children. And yet it’s a situation we’ve had friends deal with in recent years. One that we respect and treat as gently as possible because it will never be ok. That comes up in the movie in fact and made my wife and I think about our friends, their struggle, and our own children.
It’s not a perfect film, but I want to talk about it in two major areas.
First, there’s the cast, which is amazing. Will Smith. Helen Mirren. Edward Norton. Michael Pena. Naomie Harris. Jacob Latimore. Keira Knightley. Kate Winslet. How can you go wrong with those names on the marquee?
It’s Smith’s movie, though the others come in and out like characters in a Shakespearean play passing through the stage. For a good chunk of the film, Smith says nothing at all, but you can feel the pain and anguish. You can see it in his face. In his body language. In the way he starts to say something and then stops. And later when he starts talking again, you hang on every single word.
Mirren is delightful, playing the aspect of Death. And I don’t mean that in any way other than she’s amazing. Death is a part of life and she embodies it with every line she says in the role. She continues to impress me with her depth and breadth as an actress.
Pena is also amazing. His role in Ant-Man was charming and funny, but this role is so far removed from those concepts that it’s incredible. His character here is the definition of a stoic in word and deed.
Harris offered an understated calm in the storm Smith’s character is going through and by the time you see how things are connected, you’re ok with it because she never forces it. She speaks. She listens. She observes. And she fills a void connecting worlds to one another.
And Latimore in the role of Time… I think he had some of the greatest lines in the film discussing how we take the gift of time for granted. He attacked that role with a vengeance and we came away enlightened as a result. Though I’d seen him in other things, he was an unknown to me. I think we’ll be seeing great things from him in the future.
I didn’t even mind Ed Norton. He’s not one of my favorites, but his character changed through the film in unexpected ways. He went from a damaged middle-aged man pursuing love to explaining why being a parent is one of the most beautiful and terrifying roles anyone will ever play in a lifetime.
The biggest weak point was Knightley. Sorry, but though she has a great role to play as the abstraction of Love — I just never felt anything. She’s not one of my favorites anyway, but I wish she had done better with the role. The words were there, but I felt the conviction was lacking.
Second, there’s the writing. This is honestly one of the best scripts I’ve seen on screen in a long time.
Why? Because it didn’t drown in words. There were entire chunks of the film in which we simply FELT as we watched Will Smith move through the story. It allowed the audience time to breathe, to accept what had come before and digest it a little before we were hit by another brief barrage of philosophy, anger, or the unfair nature of the world. There was an organic rise and fall that never felt rushed in any way. And when we reach the end of the story, it’s almost a cathartic release as it is with Smith’s character.
Collateral Beauty has to be one of my favorite films of the year. It was beautiful. It was sad. It was perfect despite its few flaws. And I hope I never have to experience the loss of a child.