Retreating from life after the death of his young daughter, Howard (Will Smith) questions the universe by writing - and posting - letters to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The grief of a parent is perhaps the keenest felt of all, unnatural in a way, bitter and lasting, and Allan Loeb's screenplay is an essay on how such grief can send a man half mad. Howard (Will Smith) has been in a state of suspended grief for two years, following his daughter's death, unwilling to even utter her name. His marriage has suffered, too, as has his business, a successful New York advertising agency, where his partner Whit (Edward Norton) and key executives Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena), are at their wit's end trying to manage Howard and wrangle him out of his shut-down. They need him to sign documents that will save the company ...
Also at risk is Whit's relationship with his young daughter Allison (Kylie Rogers), who has shut him out since he was thrown out after an illicit affair. This irony is intended to emphasise Howard's own - literal - loss of a child, and of course adds to the film's emotional payload. Not that such additions are needed: already groaning under a surfeit of sentimentality, Collateral Beauty could shed some of its syrup to achieve bigger, deeper impact. It also overloads on death, with Simon revealing his terminal illness, as if the film needed to add such emphasis. Oh yes, and Claire is facing the prospect of a barren life ...
The central device is a rather clumsy conceit in which Whit, Claire and Simon conspire to fool Howard into thinking that his desperate letters addressed to Love, Time and Death have been answered ... in person. They have hired three actors to play these roles, in an all too convenient plot maneuver, and a private investigator (Ann Dowd) to catch it on her mobile phone camera. Keira Knightly is the catalyst for this set up when she auditions at the agency and leads Whit to the theatre where they are rehearsing. She gets to play Love, while Helen Mirren plays Death and Jacob Latimore plays Time. They stalk Howard and confront him with 'home truths'... until he comes to believe they are real apparitions. His behavior is barely convincing (nor is the conceit) in a naturalist movie and contrasts sharply with his sudden and full recovery at a board meeting where he proffers his admiration for his three executive friends - and signs the documents that he has so far - inexplicably - refused to sign.
Naomi Harris is the moderator of a bereaved parents group, where Howard makes a reluctant appearance, rather like an alcoholic trying to confront his demons. It's all a bit too much and yet not enough, although for the cast it's a great showcase for the range of emotional performances and will no doubt provide footage for their updated showreels.
Email this article
COLLATERAL BEAUTY (PG)
CAST: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley, Jacob Latimore, Ann Dowd, Kylie Rogers
PRODUCER: Allan Loeb, Kevin Scott Frakes
DIRECTOR: David Frankel
SCRIPT: Allan Loeb
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maryse Alberti
EDITOR: Andrew Marcus
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beth Mickle
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2017