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Two heavyweights organize a collection racket for a king of gangs incarcerated in The tax collector (Hulu), but they face judgment when a violent new enemy arrives in town. According to reports, the garish heavy # 2 Shia LaBeouf sports tattoos are all too real.

The essential: David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf) are the executioners of a Mexican mafia gang lord named Wizard who rules his empire on the streets of Los Angeles behind prison bars. David is a family man, a devout Catholic and devoted to his wife Alexis (Cinthya Carmona) and their young children, even though his extended family’s affairs are teeming with violence and ill-gotten gains. Creeper, on the other hand, is an amoral death machine, loyal to David, his keto diet, and not much else. We go along with these two as they take their tour, visiting various little timekeepers, collecting cash, and riffing on a life lived among gangsters and thieves.

Hierarchies of fear that frame this world. David likes to reduce low-level gang captains to a simmering mush of threats and intimidation. (“Every gang in LA has to pay their fucking taxes.”) But every time Wizard calls, David curls up in palpable fear. Everyone in this underground ecosystem survives by eating what is below. Punch is to salute death. Still, there are problems in the upper echelons. The wizarding mafia empire is locked in a perpetual power struggle with the Mexican drug cartels, and when the murderer Conejo (Jose “Conejo” Martin) is sent from the south to seriously disrupt the status quo, David and Creeper fall apart. set in the meat grinder.

THE TAX COLLECTOR -
Photo: RLJE Films

What movies will this remind you of? With The tax collector, writer-director David Ayer once again roams the streets of Los Angeles, the same environment he explored with End of the guard tour (2012), a film with a more superior mix of male ties, Chicano and gang subcultures, and heavy shootings. Meanwhile, the 2019 Catherine Hardwicke movie Miss Bala introduced Gina Rodriguez as a Los Angeles woman who becomes an unlikely infiltrator of the Mexican drug cartels.

Performances to watch: George Lopez plays counter type like Louis, David’s tio and boss in the family criminal business. He barks lines like “Of course he’s scared!” You look like fucking animals! and in one interesting scene, leads a conversation with David regarding sensitive underworld shenanigans completely in wordless coded language, with the meaning of their deliberate hand gestures appearing in the captions.

Memorable dialogue: When a gang’s tax burden is light, Creeper and David go to the key holder to lean on him. The weapons are drawn. Threats are being made. But when the man stammers that he kept the money to take care of his young daughter with leukemia, David shows him pity. Creeper is a little squeamish about his friend and partner. “That’s your fucking problem there,” he said later. “You cannot compartmentalize. You tax 43 different street gangs. That’s thousands of dudes in Los Angeles’ most violent, screwed-up subculture, and you wanna play the fucking pope here.

Our opinion : In The tax collector, Ayer takes the trouble to present the links of family as a lever of hope against the specter of death and destruction which is a constant presence in the lives of its characters. Religion and the power of belief is also presented as a central concept not only for David, a Roman Catholic, but also for the wicked Conejo, who practices a form of Santa Muerte worship. Both men see themselves as aligned with a higher power. (“You can’t get to Conejo,” David says. “He’s demonic, I can feel it.”) But it’s a more earthly hierarchy that really guides them. “The big homeys” – Wizard calling the shots via a cell phone from the prison, and cartel lords Jalisco de Conejo, who unleash him in a room for control of the streets and drug corners of Los Angeles. These are the powers that propagate the violence that ends up consuming The tax collector, and Ayers doesn’t invest enough time in these larger notions of family and godliness to counter all the carnage. Auxiliary characters like David’s brash sister Delia aren’t given enough to make a real impression (although Noemi Gonzalez does her best), and even LaBeouf’s Creeper, loyal to the end, isn’t. ultimately another piston in the film’s barbarism engine. The tax collector features confident camera work, a propulsively mounted shootout, and solid work from its actors, at least for what they get. But his only real concern is sending them into battle, and causing them to bleed.

Our call: STREAM IT, but only if you’re ready for its portrayal of LA as a skull and crossbones playground of street violence and malicious bloodshed.

Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer and editor living in Chicagoland. Her work has been featured in The Village Voice, All Music Guide, Pitchfork Media, and Nicki Swift. Follow him on Twitter: @glennganges

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Esther L. Steinbach