Directed by David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris, Keira Knightley and others
Rating: * * *
In David Frankel’s Collateral Beauty, Will Smith’s mobile face is made to settle for a mask of grief. The film is about coping with tragedy even if it comes off as a collection of platitudes.
Howard Inlet (Will Smith) is a successful advertising executive, who lets his life unravel when his daughter dies of cancer. He seems to slide into an such attitude of numb defeat, that his colleagues Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet) and Simon Scott (Michael Peña), rally to save the sinking agency, even if it means having the “resident poet-philosopher of product” declared mentally incompetent. They all have their own burdens of unhappiness that they are carrying around, so you know where the film is headed.
After days of hesitation Howard goes to a support group for people who have lost a child and meets the leader Madeleine (Naomie Harris). Crazily enough, he also writes and posts letters to Love, Time and Death, as if they were people. A private detective (Ann Dowd), hired by Whit, Claire and Simon, to keep an eye on Howard, retrieves those letters. Howard begins receiving personal answers to his letters and meets Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightley).
Frankel does not go for subtlety, so the film shamelessly manipulate the audience’s emotions and throws in faux wisdom that can be picked up from those internet forwards. Set in New York during the holidays, it is designed to offer homilies of love, loyalty and all the noble values. It doesn’t manage to do it as well as, say, It’s a Wonderful Life, but those who like pathos of this surface variety might find some value in this film as a means of catharsis. However, even the cynical would be gritting their teeth at the phoniness of it all.
What makes it watchable, however, is that dazzling array of talent from Helen Mirren to Kate Winslet to Keira Knightley. With them constantly stealing the scenes, Will Smith, the big Hollywood star’s obviously Oscar-bait performance seems annoying labored.