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Collateral Beauty (2016)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/14/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/13/2017

Movies that open in December are usually Oscar bait “important” films, family movies, or expected blockbusters. When Collateral Beauty opened in December 2016, one could tell from the trailer that it was placing all of its eggs in the Oscar bait basket. A cast led by Will Smith, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, and Helen Mirren should be a 100% guaranteed to deliver such a movie, but instead, it was slammed hard by critics who found this movie about grief oddly unemotional despite what they viewed as obvious, blatant attempts to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings. Going in to a viewing knowing a movie is generally disliked can easily color a review, but it can also motivate one to have an open mind knowing that most things are not universally liked or despised, they are frequently more likely to be somewhere in between.

Collateral Beauty tells the story of Howard, the owner of an advertising agency (Will Smith) who is stuck in grief following the loss of his six-year-old daughter. Unable to cope with the loss, Howard’s business is threatened and his loyal yet deeply concerned staff Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet), and Simon (Michael Pena) look for a way to save the business and Howard, if possible. They hire a private investigator (Ann Dowd) who discovers Howard has written three letters: one to Love, one to Time, and one to Death. A chance encounter between Whit and Amy (Keira Knightley) at a casting audition for a commercial his company is planning leads to Whit following her back to a theatre where she is rehearing a play with Brigitte (Helen Mirren) and Raffi (Jacob Lattimore). The three actors are cast by Whit, Claire, and Simon to play the abstract concepts of Time, Love, and Death and asked to approach and engage Howard in discussions about the concepts which can be recorded and then edited to prove he is emotionally and mentally unable to do what is best for the company so it can be sold and the jobs of the many employees saved. At the same time, Howard eventually engages in a support group he has been watching from the outside and begins to examine his grief with the leader and fellow griever Madeline (Naomie Harris ).

While explaining the convoluted plot of the movie seems to imply the movie is a train wreck, it simply is not as bad as one might assume. The concept is actually intriguing, and grief is one of those things we all wrestle with at some point in our lives. However, the movie falls into a few common Hollywodd pitfalls and this is what keeps the movie from being elevated into something more moving. First, the film expects moviegoers to overlook the fact that Howard’s actions bely a selfishness. Is the loss of a child horrific? Absolutely. Devastating- no question at all. But in the real world, how often would most people be allowed to dwell in their misery to the point of personally affecting the well-being of the people around them to the extent Howard’s character does? Most people in the real world have to keep going despite unbearable pain because others depend on them. Howard, being the owner of a company that employs a lot of people whose livelihood, and that of their families, depends on him and makes him much less sympathetic. Second, the twists that this movie gives are not necessary. Every movie nowadays seems to think it is the only way to give an emotional punch or a shock to the viewer. While I saw the twists right from the start, I was hoping that the writing and acting would elevate the story so the movie could be more than just a typical Hollywood sermon on how despite what is horrible in life, there are also good things as well.

I appreciate the optimism of the movie, and some of the acting in it is good. I am tired of seeing Will Smith in serious movies, and I do not understand why actors who are genuinely funny and can make really good light fare feel like they always have to be in things that are dramatic and important (I’m talking to you, Tom Hanks). But he does a good job as Howard, and if he wasn’t a naturally charming and likeable person I do believe I would have found his character unbearable. Edward Norton and Michael Pena are two actors I always like, but their performances here are flat, as is Kate Winslet’s. I do not know how I missed Naomie Harris in movies before this year when all of a sudden it seemed like she was in everything that was “important”, but she really is a wonderful actress who gives the movie a subtlety and beauty. The writing is heavy-handed in some spots, but it does also give some interesting views and observations about love, time, and death that most people face throughout their lifetimes. Unfortunately, the collateral beauty of the film does not permeate through as one would hope for in a movie with such talent involved. The viewer, if they do not expect too much, can appreciate the film’s attempts to enlighten and engage, as in the end, it is an acceptable attempt to explore the grief process.

Collateral Beauty is sort of a reverse A Christmas Carol on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is impressive and the depth looks good. The picture is not groundbreaking, but looks very good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is more of a quiet drama, but the track does provide some noticeable stereo and surround effects during the street scenes. The film's score sounds fine and never overpowers the actors.

The Collateral Beauty Blu-ray Disc contains only one extra feature. "A Modern Fable: Discovering Collateral Beauty" (15 minutes) is a making-of featurette which explores the film's production, but actually pays more attention to the film's story and themes. We get comments from the cast and the creative team and some clips from the film, but very little on-set footage.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long