Despite the film receiving mostly mixed to negative reviews, Collateral Beauty is a movie that more people need to see and recognize for its achievements. I cannot remember the last time a movie left me thinking about it and life in general for days on end. Sure, I’ve thought about how fun a movie was or how enjoyable a movie was for many days after I saw it, but I usually don’t think about a movie’s message or things that happened in the film that often, wanting to get a deeper understanding of the visual story that was presented to me.
If you have not seen this film yet, I implore you to give it a chance. If you can find it at a theatre, go see it, or see it when it is released on DVD and Blu-Ray. You will not be disappointed. If you need more convincing, read on.
There are SOME SPOILERS ahead; please be aware if you have not yet seen the film.
Not only does this story leave you with something to think about, but all of the performances in this film are top notch, including Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, and Edward Norton. I would even go so far as to say Naomie Harris and Will Smith were Oscar snubbed; their performances alone are worth seeing the film. They are especially heart-wrenching, evocative, and refreshingly truthful and touching. (Naomie Harris is already Oscar-nominated for her performance in Moonlight (2016). Ms. Harris has already done great things and is quickly becoming one of the best actresses working today.)
Many people were disappointed with the film’s actual story when they saw it, as it was largely different than what was perceived in the initial trailers. Critics especially claimed that the trailers “lied” to them. “Lied” is not really the right word -- the trailers never come right out and say what the film is about, we just assume we know what the plot will entail. Admittedly, the trailers were “misleading” but certainly not dishonest. In fact, it was refreshing to see that a film was not exactly as it appeared in the trailers.
While it is hard to side with Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Peña), who are trying to get Howard (Will Smith) fired from his job by making it look like he is insane, the end result is worth the ride. The film is not about their questionable actions but the lessons learned from attempting them. It shows that humanity is flawed. Not all people are good, and, while we usually want to root for the main characters, it is a bold move to make these three protagonists shameful and nearly unlikeable because of their actions -- although they are not entirely without sympathy from the audience.
When they hire three actors to embody Love (Keira Knightley), Death (Helen Mirren), and Time (Jacob Latimore), the three concepts that Howard writes letters to, we begin to see what each of these three scheming business partners is going through in their own private lives: divorce, a deathly illness, having a child. The three hired actors truly become the real manifestations of Love, Death, and Time when interacting with their three employers and end up teaching each one of them something about their own personal struggles. At the end of the film, we are called into question whether these actors might not just be manifestations but the abstractions visibly come to life, having fooled us all along.
This film also has a couple of twists toward the end of the final act, one especially between Howard and Madeleine (Naomie Harris), that really left me speechless. I also could not tell you the last time a movie presented this kind of a twist that was so surprising and so emotionally moving it had me eating out of the palm of its hand. Usually I see “twists” coming a mile away or have heard of a possible surprise in the story, or we are surprised by something but not to the extent that it blows our minds. This particular twist: BLEW. MY. MIND. Honestly. And everything that happened came together.
If you have seen the film and agree with most critics that the film falls flat, I urge you to watch it again knowing what you know about the story and see if you can discover at least one thing that has takeaway value for you. I guarantee that one thing will make all the difference and show what a realistic, self-reflective story this really gives us to not only enjoy but to think about and ponder. Is it a perfect movie? No, but the poignant ideas and some breathtaking performances make it deserve more TIME and LOVE, not DEATH.