Collateral Beauty is a story about a group of advertising executives in New York City. Their boss Howard (Smith), lost his 6-year-old daughter two years ago and has since become a zombie recluse who barely speaks to his friends anymore. When it’s revealed that they are very close to losing the company and everything that they have worked their whole lives for, the group decides that they need to act to bring Howard out of his state. When it is discovered that Howard writes letters to Death, Time, and Love; Whit (Edward Norton) decides to hire three actors and pretend to be Death, Time, and Love in order to talk to him and hopefully get through to him.
The film presents a big cast and a couple of big twists throughout to keep things entertaining. Howard’s group of executives are played by Edward Norton, Michael Pena, and Kate Winslet. When the group gets desperate they hire the likes of Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore, and Keira Knightley to play the roles of Death, Time, and Love. If you have watched the trailers for this movie, you would think that this is a typical ghost film with three entities talking to Howard à la A Christmas Carol.
The film, however, is brilliantly written as just when you think you understand what is going on, the film tosses you an emotional curveball and changes direction. When Witt, Claire, and Simon hire the actors, turns out they are the ones in need of their help just as much as Howard. Witt recently divorced his wife after she found him cheating on her and now he is desperate to regain his daughter’s love who hates him. Claire’s (Winslet) biological clock is running out and finds herself running out of time to have a child. And Simon (Pena) is terminally ill staring death in the face.
The film’s tone is very depressing in the beginning. The story is about dealing with the loss of a loved one especially a child. The pain in Howard’s eyes hits you right in the feels as he’s become a man who can’t accept the fact his daughter is gone. Howard begins to visit a help group for people who have lost children but even then he can’t break his shell of anger and grief. There are few movies where you actually believe the pain the characters are going through and this is one of them.
The issues portrayed are so simple yet so real because it’s situations that everyday people deal with. The worst-case scenario for most is a reality for some. My only complaints about the film is that at times it can feel too predictable or the emotion can feel too much like a Lifetime Movie but honestly the acting, the structure of the story, even the very last twist at the end makes it a very enjoyable film and I can’t knock it too much considering I like the decisions made to engage the audience and keep them guessing.
Collateral Beauty is a damn fine film. Will Smith and the ensemble cast play their roles to perfection and all of them bring an interesting and relatable perspective to the film’s narrative. While the ending is heartwarming, the journey to get there is rough so don’t expect a happy go lucky film. There is no easy way to tackle death in cinema and if you are anything like Will Smith’s character, you will have a difficult time dealing with the subject matter of losing someone close to you.
What I can say is that Collateral Beauty is one of the better films at taking a difficult topic and making it into an enjoyable film without losing its message to cheesy clichés.