Review of Collateral Beauty
Director: David Frankel
Cast: Will Smith, Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightley, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Michael Peña, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore
With an all-star cast and a heart-wrenching plot this film just could not disappoint.
The story follows the journey of a once charismatic advertising businessman, Howard (Will Smith), struggling to come to terms with the loss of his child. Overcome with grief, he isolates himself from everyone and becomes an unapproachable, ruptured, shadow of a man. Worried about his sanity and the future of the company, his colleagues and closest friends try to save him from his deeply troubled mind.
After some investigation into Howard’s mental stability, his friends learn that he has been venting his emotions via letters to the universe. In the opening scene of the film, Howard is explaining how everything in life is connected by three abstractions: Love, Time, and Death. The letters he has written, seemingly as a coping method to pour out his feelings, are addressed to these abstractions. His friends acquire the help of three actors to personify the abstractions in order for him to engage with his problems. With the unexpected confrontations of the abstractions, Howard’s battle with his emotions begin, and thus the struggle to overcome bereavement is shared with the audience.
What is so relatable and therefore effective about this film is that death is part of the fabric of life, something that everyone has to deal with. We accompany Howard on his conflicting road to understanding how to deal with loss, resulting in an extremely teary hour and a half of watching. The film truly pulls on the heart strings with the empathy that the entire cast brings to the screen.
There is an overall sense of an evocative circle that began with perfect happiness, led to the shattering of the equilibrium with the loss of his child and the apathy for life, and ended with the eventual awareness of what it means to be alive. As Howard manages to let go of his past, the audience are liberated with him through an extremely moving plot twist that will leave you emotionally exhausted.
The poignant, tear-inducing evolution towards acceptance is portrayed phenomenally by Will Smith and his intensity throughout; we feel every ounce of his pain, every morsel of anger, and every cathartic sense of relief. This may have been enhanced by the unfortunate coincidence that Smith’s father was given six weeks to live during filming. By studying the emotional toils that people have to deal with when losing a loved one to gain insight into his character, Smith has said that it was the most impactful film he has ever made and really helped him come to terms with the passing of his own father. I believe this is fervently illustrated in the film, as it leaves you in pieces upon understanding the feelings that Howard encounters in the hard-hitting search for his soul.
A pertinently touching, personal film that will stimulate an existential re-analysis of life and inspire a new outlook on the profound connections in the peripherals of our daily interactions; it really sparks a recognition and welcoming of everything around you, the unseen value of relationships – the collateral beauty.
By Will Thompson