“The Tax Collector” review: Shia LaBeouf’s film is a bloody mess

RLJE Films / Photo courtesy of Justin Lubin

As part of his preparation to play the role of a ruthless Los Angeles gangster named Creeper in writer-director David Ayer’s crime thriller The tax collector, who is making her way bluntly on VOD today, Shia LaBeouf got a huge, real chest tattoo which prominently displays the name of his character. Yes it means the old one Transformers the star has the word “creeper” written all over her body, an act of professional dedication that matches her other well-documented bursts of Method-y engagement, such as having a tooth removed while filming the WWII tank thriller global Fury, which was also directed by Ayer. Apparently the two bring out this level of intensity in each other.

Sadly, few of those “damn, are we doing tattoos!” energy does it to the screen in The tax collector, a mostly bland street drama that struggles to merge its sometimes flashy genre flourishes and well-worn fatalistic reflections on drug trafficking into a narrative with real urgency. From the jump, the film feels like a back-to-basics project for Ayer after a pair of possibly misguided adventures in big-budget cinema, DC’s ‘twisted’ villain team in 2016. Suicide Squad and Cops and Orcs 2017 Netflix fantasy franchise-starter Shiny. He’s stepped back into his comfort zone here, both geographically and thematically, but there’s an ominous lack of joy in the final product, as Ayer was auditing his own tics and obsessions.

the tax collector
RLJE Films / Photo courtesy of Justin Lubin

You don’t even see much of LaBeouf’s legendary tattoo, which wouldn’t matter if the movie was as crisp as his character’s Johnny Cash costumes. The story actually centers around David (Bobby Soto), a family man and drug money collector who works for an obscure boss named Wizard, and the movie pushes Creeper to the periphery as it goes. action develops. Structurally, The tax collector is in line with Ayer’s earlier and more grainy work, such as the Oscar-winning film Training day, for which he wrote the screenplay, and his detective film of Slice of Life in found images End of the guard tour. Like these two (much better) movies, The tax collector features many scenes of men driving and entering potentially dangerous rooms.

What happens in these rooms? Transfers, threats and cheap shots. In the past, Ayer has shown a knack for writing down these tense, close-knit encounters, capturing how a whimsical look or stray comment can trigger a series of violent events, and there are some funny, lived-in moments like David and Creeper. go about their largely monotonous work. Some jokes in the car about meditation, mindfulness, and the strict Creeper diet have a pleasant effect. Likewise, a sequence in Quinceañera from the Daughter of David has a handful of choice line readings. When Ayer releases the gas pedal, allowing the actors to find a rhythm and create some privacy, the movie is at its best.

the tax collector
RLJE Films / Photo courtesy of Justin Lubin

But eventually the assault rifles come out, human sacrifices are made, and the plot sinks into a ditch as it seeks to shock and confuse. There’s a blatant villain named Conejo (played by Jose Conejo Martin), who wants to take over the drug trade in David’s community, and his introduction leads to a series of kidnappings, tearful phone calls, and shootouts that feel more rote than scary. (As you can imagine given the material and the controversy following the release of the trailer, the film deals with a number of cultural stereotypes that it rarely subverts or upsets.) At various points, Ayer uses a cross-editing technique that makes scenes almost incoherent, inserting intrusive flashbacks into moments that don’t. do not necessarily need it. As the number of bodies increases, confusion sets in.

If you squint, you can see Ayer perhaps reaching for the nuanced macho gravity of Sam Peckinpah, another chronicler of slow-motion shootings and surprisingly warm moments of male friendship. With a movie like The tax collector, the levels are just far apart, and that leaves the talented cast – including Soto, LaBeouf, and an underutilized George Lopez – looking for something to cling to amid all the pseudo-depths and carnage. You wish they were in a better, less frenetic thriller that gave them more room to breathe. LaBeouf will leave with a physical reminder of the film on his body; for most viewers, this will be a temporary tattoo that you wash off right after the credits roll.

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Dan Jackson is Editor-in-Chief at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.

Esther L. Steinbach

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