Over the past twenty years, the strangely-still-fresh Prince Smith has established himself incredibly well as the bad boy of action, from, ahem, the Bad Boys movies, to last year’s Suicide Squad, with all the others in between too like Independence Day, the Men in Black movies, I, Robot and I Am Legend, to name but a gazillion. But in more recent years, Smith has also shown us his more human side, particularly with 2006’s A Pursuit of Happyness and 2008’s Seven Pounds (did I just say “recent”? How were they so long ago?!), both helmed by Gabriele Muccino. And while Smith seldom delivers anything but a layered performance, with compassion and humanity always wedged firmly between the wisest of cracks imaginable, it’s refreshing to see him exploit his truer acting abilities, with his least-actiony flicks now becoming reminiscent of Tom Hanks’ most teary tear-jerkers (which would be most of his films, then). Equally, I’m hoping Hanks will explore his “inner bad boy” and appear in next year’s Bad Boys threequel as the unlikely crowd-maker to Smith and Lawrence’s danger-loving duet. You just never know.
Charismatic New York advertising executive Howard Inlet (Smith) tragically loses his daughter, rendering him a seldom-speaking, domino-making, shell of a man, and whose business faces failure as a result, while his best friends and colleagues, Whit Yardshaw (Edward Norton), Claire Wilson (Kate Winslet) and Simon Scott (Michael Pena) grow increasingly concerned for both his mental state and the company’s future. But when they learn that he’s sending angry mail to three abstract recipients – Love, Time and Death – they decide to help answer his letters by hiring three budding actors, Amy (Keira Knightley), Raffi (Jacob Latimore) and Brigitte (Helen Mirren), to pose as the three concepts and interact with Howard so that they can capture it on film and digitally erase the actors, thus proving he is mentally unfit to run the company and allowing them to seize control.
While the plot hatched by Howard’s three friends is something of a long-shot (in other words, farfetched), and is perhaps also highly-questionable from an ethical standpoint, Collateral Beauty is an emotionally-stunning drama with a couple of clever twists thrown in for good measure. And while his friends’ intentions might seem somewhat cruel, in doing this, it does inadvertently provide Howard with a form of therapy far more cathartic than he probably found in writing the letters themselves. But there’s a reason for everything here, and let it be said that not everything is quite as it seems. Once again, and as was the case with last year’s The Passengers, the film’s trailer pulls the wool over our eyes – in a good way – allowing us to actually be surprised when the film throws a couple of twists and turns here and there, and being anything but the Christmas Carol-esque tale it’s advertised to be. Of course, the concept alone is evidently-inspired by the infamous, ever-incarnated Dickens tale, but think of this as a wintry-fresh take on the much-loved, poignant premise.
The performances are incredible all round, with none that can be faulted. As for Smith himself, in a strange way, he’s not too dissimilar to his Pursuit and Seven Pounds counterparts: a reserved man of few words with an eccentric, quirky affinity for all things strategy (Pursuit saw him a Rubik’s Cube-genius, Seven Pounds involved him meticulously calculate his own death, and now he painstakingly-builds complex domino structures). This isn’t a bad thing – but merely an observation.
Ultimately, Collateral Beauty is more about how we’re all connected with one another – much like dominoes – as it is about death, with the beautiful score strangely uplifting even during scenes of heartache. But perhaps out of the three concepts, the film’s biggest focus is Time, with Jacob Lattimore’s Raffi making a solid argument against our unfair perception of it, reinforcing just how long a single day really is. With a star-studded cast and a heart warmer than any open fire, this (albeit late) festive-flick is one to watch with a handkerchief at the hip. And though it’s unlikely to land on the shelf of Christmas classics, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to.