When I first saw the trailer for Collateral Beauty, I immediately wanted to see it. The movie is a heartbreaking tale of a man who has lost his daughter and begins sending letters to Love, Death, and Time. In the trailer, the incarnations of Time, Death, and Love begin talking back to him and I wanted to find out if the glimpse I’d seen would be as incredible in the full movie. It turned out to be everything I expected and more. It was beautiful, compelling, and made me cry as the story came to life.
The movie begins with giving you a scene of Howard Inlet (Will Smith) before his loss, a charismatic, thoughtful, dynamic man who with his business partner Whit Yardsham (Edward Norton) runs an advertising firm in New York City. Fast forward to three years later and we are shown a grieving, silent man building domino structures and writing letters to Love, Death, and Time. His friends cannot reach him, the business is struggling and Whit, Claire ((Kate Winslet) or Simon (Michael Peña) are running out of ideas of how to reconnect with Howard. They hire a private investigator Sally Price (Ann Dowd) to find out what they can do to get Howard to sign off on a sale of the business.
Howard begins having conversations with Death (Helen Mirren), Love (Keira Knightley) and Time (Jacob Latimore). As their answers lead him to open up, he begins visiting a support group where he meets with the woman running the group, Madeleine (Naomi Harris), who has also experienced loss. The unexpected responses from Death, Time, and Love allows Howard to see how even the deepest loss can reveal meaning and beauty. Not only does Howard find revelations but so do his friends. Whit has gone through a divorce and is struggling to reach his daughter. Clair is a workaholic who craves her own family, and Simon has a newborn but is plagued by a mysterious cough. In the end, not only do Time, Death, and Love reach out to Howard but they also lead his friends to their own resolution.
This film is exquisite, multi-layered, and has a duality to every interaction that the characters engage in. Throughout the movie, we see Howard speaking with Death, Love, and Time Not only does the film give you that superficial layer but it also includes another level, slowly revealing Howard’s friends stories, showing us how those interlock with Howard, and that their stories are as important.. And every story, each person brought me to tears both joyful and sad as we see the beauty in life’s individual moments. It takes an incredible amount of skill to pull off the complexity of storytelling that this movie brings to life. It was full of subtle references and clues that guide the viewer to a deeper understanding of the world and the characters by the time the film ends.
Each time I thought I knew what was going on; I was surprised by another piece of the puzzle. The characters kept me guessing as to their true nature and I was deeply moved by Howard’s grief and his friend’s struggles. I felt like time ceased to pass and when the film ended, it felt like the movie had just begun, I ended up so involved in the narrative. It reminded me of the way Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett created in their writing personifications of similar concepts. Those similarities are what drew me in and made me fall in love with this story.
The ensemble cast was incredible. Will Smith plays a grieving father so phenomenally well and the makeup effects were solidly believable as they show us contrast with how he looks at the beginning of the film as a younger man and three years later after the loss of his child. If awards are going out, this film should receive many accolades. Helen Mirren was powerful in the role of Death, Jacob Latimore was impressive as Time, and Keira Knightly was sweetly enthralling as Love. Not only were their performances outstanding but so were Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Michael Pena. I’ve seen Michael Pena perform comedy but never seen him in a serious role. He showed that he can do so much more than expected and was endearing as Simon. Edward Norton was charming, especially as he works to win back the affection of his daughter. And Kate Winslet was captivating as she realizes time is running out for her to have her own family.
The story was masterful and enchanting. I had my heart broken more than once but I didn’t mind because the movie was so well told and had a lightness that allows you to breathe as you take in the more painful aspects. The filmography was beautiful, highlighting New York’s charms. The film was balanced, neither saccharine nor full of platitudes to anyone who might be suffering from a loss similar to Howard’s. It was thoughtful and sensitive. While it might be difficult to watch for someone who has dealt with loss, I found it meaningful and uplifting, worth every moment of my time. I think all of us can find an appreciation for collateral beauty in the filmmaker’s message. As the movie begins, we are told that people all long for love, want more time and fear death. Anyone who has been touched by these emotions will love this movie and find connection in those words. This movie has an elegant magic to it that touched me deeply. It was heart wrenching but ultimately one of the best films I have ever seen.
Rating: 5 stars
When a successful New York ad executive suffers a personal tragedy and retreats from life, his friends devise a drastic plan to reach him before he loses everything. Pushing him to the very edge, they force him to confront the truth in surprising and profoundly human ways. From Oscar-winning director David Frankel, this thought-provoking drama explores how even the deepest loss can reveal moments of beauty, and how the constants of love, time and death interlock in a life fully lived.
Cast: Will Smith, Edward Norton, Keira Knightley, Michael Pena, Naomie Harris, Jacob Latimore with Kate Winslet, and Helen Mirren
Written by: Allan Loeb
Directed by: David Frankel