Thursday, 13 August 2020

The Tax Collector (2020)

David Ayer is a filmmaker that is generally mixed on. Opinions on him and his films tend to run either very hot or very cold depending on the film. I feel that his body of work is large enough that we can identify his style and the kind of elements he finds engaging: gritty crime, religious undertones, and gory shoot-out sequences.

I generally try to be positive, but this film is a mess. The negatives massively outweigh the positives. If the global pandemic hadn't occurred, I am sure that this film would still go straight to VOD. How bad is it? Well, in comparison, Suicide Squad (2016) had a plot that made sense. The weirdly cut trailer was the first warning that this film wouldn't be good.

We follow David Cuevas and his best friend Creeper who work for the crime lord Wizard who is currently in prison. They serve as tax collectors for the gangs of Los Angeles. While Creeper has fully imbraced to criminal lifestyle, enjoying killing without any compunction and prone to extreme violent acts, David has found more of a work-life balance, living comfortably with his wife Alexis and their two children. Its business as usual for the crime duo until a rising star Conejo, arrives and begins to collect his own taxes from the gangs. He offers David and Creeper roles in his new empire. Refusing to bow down to a new reign, a crime war is imminent.

The first thing I noticed that told me I wouldn't enjoy this was the choppy editing. The cuts from beginning to end were sudden and jarring. The cinematography is beautiful, with the world and style of Ayer's vision of LA beautifully captured.

Ayer is only in his element during the shootout sequences. As put on display in Suicide Squad(2016) and Bright (2017), they inject the film with energy and contain style with slow-motion shots as if Zack Snyder visited the set. Despite this, the climactic final battle was dull and badly captured. Seriously, the 30 million dollar budget must have been spent on catering. Shoestring short films have done better than this.

Shia Labeouf's onscreen presence is the film's greatest strength, and he is criminally underused. Had Creeper been the main character instead, the film would have been much more engaging, as his magnetic performances hint at an interesting back story that is never explored. All the characters in this film are underwritten and contain a lack of depth. Considering that Ayer broke out writing Training Day (2001), a film with fully realized complex characters with flexible morality, this is a jarring shift. If Tax Collector came before Training Day, I'd understand. Bobby Soto is the lead and his performance falls flat. With the lack of developed characters to either root for or against, the stakes are essentially nonexistent.

For a director of Ayer's caliber, this film was a massive letdown, and a decline from his previous much more engaging work. This genre is sone where his strengths lie, but it was written as if some ill-informed teen just wrote about every Latino stereotype he ever heard. I also can't get over the fact that Shia LaBeouf got a massive tattoo on his chest for the role and when you finally see it in the film, it is brief and he is covered in blood.

Ayer is a talented individual and I hope that his next film is much better than this. As this film was independently funded, he can't turn to blame over to studio interference.

The Tax Collector shows brief glimpses of a compelling crime drama but brutally falls short with incoherent storytelling, underwritten characters, and choppy editing.

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