Movie Review: "Collateral Beauty"

John Thomas

There is something off at the beginning of this film, but 97 minutes later nothing is off and everything is on – very on.

A successful advertising executive, Howard (Will Smith), suffers a grievous loss. This loss has a devastating effect on his personal life and eventually on his business and his associates. He has stopped verbal communication but does find some solace for his grief in writing letters. The letters he writes are to love, death and time, not people. In these letters, he chastises them individually for his loss.

Hoping to help Howard out from under this dark cloud – and to save the agency in the process – his partner Whit (Edward Norton) calls a meeting of Howard’s friends and associates. They brain-storm ideas and eventually devise a plan to hire a private detective, Sally (Ann Dowd) to follow Howard around and have his curious behavior documented.

A second thought presents itself to Whit that is not only wildly creative and very original but a bit mad. Strange circumstances surround this second idea. He and his colleagues arrange for Howard to actually meet death, Brigitte (Helen Mirren), time, Raffi (Jacob Latimore) and love, going by the name of Amy (Kiera Knightley) – all of them actors in a small theater group.

Throughout the movie Howard “accidentally” meets with these three, who, through their acting skill and persistence eventually help him to creep out from under his dark comfort-cloud where he had taken shelter. Death, time and love also have lasting impact on some of Howard’s colleagues at the ad agency, who also have personal issues they should face, but haven’t.

David Frankel (director) has taken the threads of humor, hope, surprise and fantasy and woven them into an entertaining tapestry dealing with the subjects of grieving and loss. The action and dialogue ramble between the real and the unreal, humor and pathos, serious and silly all pleasantly and smoothly moving the story along to its conclusion.

There are questions answered, solutions arrived at and glimmers of hope offered for the future. The closing scene does, however, leave the viewer with a question that they must answer for themselves. The question is: real or imagined?



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