Michael Simon ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Movies Contributor
Going into Collateral Beauty, the average viewer will probably have one main question in mind—what on earth does that title mean? Collateral, meaning additional, subordinate, or secondary. Beauty, as in qualities that the senses find pleasing. Put them together, and what does it all mean? Luckily, to the keen eye, it’s a question that the movie starts answering from its very first shot, but, the answer might not dawn on you until long after the credits stopped rolling. That, in a way, is the essence of this film: it makes the viewer think.
Howard’s (Will Smith) life has fallen apart following the death of his young daughter, and, upon seeing this, his close friends and colleagues decide to take action. Their reasons are both selfish and selfless; they want Howard to have a chance to confront the emotions that have thrown his life into permanent sadness, but they also want to pull their business away from him before it goes bankrupt under his negligence.
His friends go about accomplishing these tasks through somewhat unconventional methods. His closest friend Whit (Edward Norton) finds out that Howard has been writing letters to the entities he blames for his sorrow: love, time, and death. After consulting with Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Peña), they decide to indulge in Howard’s reality and let him experience a world in which these entities actually exist in a physical form.
As stated earlier, there is an alternate motive to this plan as well, as the friends plan to record Howard screaming at these entities—who would be edited out of the footage—to make him appear unfit to run the company. It is here where the movie truly kicks it into gear.
Whit, Claire, and Simon hire three actors to play the roles they are seeking to fill, and the relationships formed between these entity actors and Howard’s friends provide a great deal of heart for the movie. Love (Keira Knightley) works closely with Whit, a man who has gone through a messy divorce that culminated in his daughter’s complete and utter contempt for him, much to his dismay. Time (Jacob Latimore) works with Claire, a woman who is anxious to race against her biological clock and have a child. And lastly, Death (Helen Mirren) develops a friendship with Simon, who has recently come out of remission and is facing the end of a long fight.
It is here that the title Collateral Beauty comes into play a bit because these actors are brought on board with the original purpose of accomplishing a very somber task. What winds up happening with these friendships that are formed is nothing short of collateral beauty—a secondary effect of pure wonder.
The interactions with these entities provide some heavy catharsis for Howard, who appears to have gone into a state of shock and silence following his daughter’s death. Smith’s quiet yet powerful performance is nothing short of astounding, as he wrestles with anger, rage, hurt, love, and everything in between. When he decides to finally go to a support group and connects with a woman named Madeleine (Naomie Harris), it creates a wonderful subplot with an amazing payoff that can flood a theater with quiet sobs and sniffles.
The performances of the entire cast of Collateral Beauty are each beautiful in their own ways, which perfectly suits the film because it relies so heavily on its entire ensemble. The movie is full of different pieces that each serve a tremendous purpose in the overall effect—nothing ever feels accidental, and even the final twists seem earned as if the audience should have known it all along. It falls together quite beautifully, which brings to mind the main symbol present throughout the film: dominoes.
Throughout the film, Howard is seen obsessing over dominoes, setting them up and knocking them down over and over and over again. The very first shot of the film involves dominoes, and they reappear constantly throughout, right up to the conclusion. Dominoes are perhaps the best case of collateral beauty that sneaks in right under the audience’s nose. When knocking down a domino display, the immediate result is the destruction of something incredible, but the process of watching them fall apart is nothing short of beautiful.
That, in a nutshell, is Collateral Beauty. It tells a story of pain and loss, riddled with sadness and tear-jerking moments throughout; but if one truly pays attention to the journey the film takes them on, they surely will not “miss the collateral beauty of it all.”
Overall Grade: A
Watch The Trailer: