Filmmakers like to carve out their niche. For instance, George A. Romero had the horror genre and, more importantly, he clung on to zombie culture. He was always experimenting with the undead. If his ideas didn’t pan out, he moved on to the next project with more ambition than before. In a similar vein, writer/director David Ayer (Suicide Squad, Bright) likes the action genre and, more importantly, he’s clung on to gang culture and its underground dynamics. And although he’s received a lot of polarizing criticism in the past, he seems to let it roll off his back.
With this in mind, I’m choosing to perceive The Tax Collector’s failures with optimism. The film isn’t anything original, featuring the same head-butting crime life we’ve seen before on the cinematic streets of L.A, and two central criminals with a buddy relationship (ala Pulp Fiction). The two friends are David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), and it’s established early on just how vicious these characters are. Then Ayer takes a swing that doesn’t exactly hit. When an encroaching kingpin starts attacking David and his crew, the film wants us to sympathize with the leads who are experiencing threats similar to their own. That’s a tough turn to pull off and, as expected, that connection isn’t made. Ayer tries to convince us to care by endangering David’s family and, because of the human condition, we automatically feel sorry for his wife and children. But, no matter how you slice it, the emotional core is still tied to these horrible killers.
The filmmaker makes another bold choice by casting LaBeouf as Creeper, a character that rides a thin line between being culturally insensitive. According to Ayer, Creeper is a caucasian man who “grew up in the hood” which explains how his physique and personality have been influenced. That explanation isn’t clear in The Tax Collector. LaBeouf’s performance is amazing – we genuinely fear Creeper and his stoic demeanour. But, there’s a lingering discomfort with this indistinguishable character. Creeper is either too complex for this story, or absolutely unnecessary.
The Tax Collector works to some degree. The brutal violence is treated seriously and, by doing so, evokes the right reactions from the audience, and Ayer stays faithful to the narrative’s timeline which adds to the stress of David’s situation. However, the film is mostly made up of wishy-washy decisions that don’t add up. David Ayer might revisit these ideas later in his career, but he’s better off moving on.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie