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Blu-ray Review: Collateral Beauty

March 15, 2017

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

After the death of his young daughter, Howard (Will Smith) has become withdrawn in his job at the New York ad agency that he helped found, spending his time writing angry letters to abstractions like Love, Time and Death, while his co-workers Whit (Edward Norton), Simon (Michael Peña) and Claire (Kate Winslet) struggle to break him out of his grief.

Worried for their jobs, with the deadline looming on a contract that Howard needs to sign authorizing a lucrative sale, Whit hatches the morally questionable plan to hire a trio of actors to portray Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Death (Helen Mirren), in a basic attempt to gaslight Howard into declaring himself mentally unfit and give up his powers in the company.

Although Collateral Beauty was openly derided by the majority of critics, and became a notorious box office flop upon its holiday release last December, I have also read some online comments from regular people who seem genuinely touched by the film, and I can’t really say any of these different reactions are wrong.  This is an often strange film in terms of tone, and while I can’t entirely recommend it, I also wouldn’t discourage others from seeing it for themselves.

The biggest problem with Collateral Beauty is that the trailers tried to sell it as a sentimental Christmas movie with mystic overtones, and while it still is sort of that, it’s also essentially a drama about three co-workers gaslighting their boss and friend.  The titular metaphor of “collateral beauty” is that beautiful moments can be born out of tragedy, and the film does have some spiritual elements to it, but the central conceit behind it all could also be read as kind of cynical.  The film also works in heavy themes of grief and the death of a child, with a subplot focusing on a support group and the relationship that forms between Howard and a woman (Naomie Harris) who also lost her daughter.

I watched Collateral Beauty the other night, and I’m still finding it hard to really make heads or tails of the movie and what I thought of it.  Some scenes are moving, while others are downright baffling in their construction, and parts of it feel ill-conceived.  The cast is chock full of talented stars, and Will Smith does give an affective performance in his portrayal of parental grief, yet the material sometimes feels like it might have been better suited to a Hallmark movie.

This is an interesting misfire, the sort of film that doesn’t entirely come together as a whole, but also sometimes works on a scene by scene basis.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a good movie overall, but it’s also not one that I feel comfortable writing off entirely.  The film is such an odd duck in terms of plot and tone that it’s almost worth seeing just to experience if for yourself.

The Blu-ray also includes the fifteen minute featurette A Modern Fable: Discovering Collateral Beauty, which features interviews with the cast and crew discussing the story and themes.

Collateral Beauty is a Warner Bros. Home Entertainment release.  It’s 96 minutes and rated PG.

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