Collateral Beauty is a surprising movie. If you watch the trailer, you may think it’s a fairy tale, along the lines of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Time, Love and Death standing in for the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.
But as I was watching the movie, and it went in a totally different direction, I was surprised and pleased, realizing I was in for a much more adventurous story than I’d anticipated.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins with Howard (Will Smith), who’s a successful businessman. He’s a motivational boss and his company is doing very well.
Fast forward and Howard is an emotional mess following the death of his six-year-old daughter. He holes himself up at home, doesn’t answer the door to his friends and at work, he spends days setting up dominoes so he can have them tumble in a grand gesture.
His business partners, Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña), who are also his best friends, are worried. The company is failing without Howard to lead it. They decide the best thing for all involved is to sell the company, but they can’t convince Howard to make a move. In fact, they can barely get hold of him. They hire a detective to follow him to find out what he’s doing.
The detective discovers he’s written three letters and mailed them — to Time, Love and Death. She retrieves the letters from the mailbox and gives them to the partners, who come up with an ingenious idea.
They hire actors to pose as Time (Jacob Latimore), Love (Keira Knightley) and Death (Helen Mirren). And if that doesn’t get Howard to wake up, they’ll go for their last chance option: prove he’s not in his right mind by getting videos of him talking to these people in public, then airbrushing them out so it looks like he’s talking to no one.
But all is not as it appears. Each of the partners has issues of his/her own. Simon has a deep, dark secret that not even his family knows about. Claire desperately wants to have a child, but her career has always taken precedence. After a short-lived affair, Whit lost his wife to another man and his young daughter refuses to spend time with him.
There are two twists, or surprises, in this movie. When I realized that there might something more to what was going on than what was first apparent, it sent shivers down my spine. The second twist, which is unrelated to the first one, caught me completely by surprise.
This is a heartwarming movie, and that also surprised me. Because it’s about loss, I expected it to be sad and depressing, but it’s far from that.
Collateral Beauty is uplifting, more like a cross between It’s a Wonderful Life and The Sixth Sense. Not in terms of plot, but in the feeling you get when you leave the theater. Without exception, this is the most beautiful, most clever movie I’ve seen this year.
This screenplay is by Allan Loeb, who’s written mostly comedies, including the hilarious Just Go With It. Collateral Beauty is his finest script yet. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) also lends his deft touch to the film, crafting it into a work of art.
The cast is crammed with A-list talent, but it’s Helen Mirren who gives the standout performance. As Brigitte, she was both hilarious as an actor desperate for compliments on her acting performance as Time and heartwarming when she goes beyond what she’s been hired to do. She does all of this with a glint in her eye that promises something unexpected.
For his part, Will Smith turns in what is probably the most understated performance of his career. The loss of a child is debilitating and he portrays that loss with appropriate confusion, anger, frustration and despair. He struggles to cope, but as he fails to be able to return to his former routine, he falls further into himself.
As his friends and colleagues, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña effectively portray their own struggles as they try to understand what Howard is going through. They’re worried about their friend, but they also have concerns about their own futures as the company is about to crash down around them.
As the movie went on, I found myself enjoying it more and more, until its final, satisfying scene. Collateral Beauty is a truly unique film that will give you unexpected moments — both of humor and pathos — and it deserves generous praise. Hopefully it’s not to late to get into the Oscar race. I rate it 5 stars out of 5. ~Alexandra Heilbron