Movie Review: ‘The Tax Collector’

Review by James Lindorf

After recent forays into the fantastic with “Bright” and “Suicide Squad,” writer-Director David Ayer returned to his old stomping grounds. Usually, Ayer’s exploration of violent Los Angeles street culture is from the police’s point of view, see “Training Day,” “S.W.A.T.,” “End of Watch,” or “Sabotage.” This time around, he is delving deep into the world of mob enforcers. Family man David (Bobby Soto) and his psychotic but loyal partner, Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), are “tax collectors” for the David’s father, the crime lord Wizard. Everything that takes place in their portion of L.A. happens because Wizard allows it, and for the honor of doing your business, you get to pay him 40%. When an old rival returns looking to overthrow the current power structure, no one is safe; even families aren’t off-limits this time. “The Tax Collector” will be taking his cut on August 7th.

“The Tax Collector” is like a beautiful piece of furniture that has been handled too roughly. It looks great from a distance, but once you do an up-close inspection, you start to notice all the dings, scratches, and odd imperfections. There is too much in the script for it to only be a 95-minute movie. Relationships vital to the story are unexplored, resulting in life or death decisions being made out of the blue. I loved what was going on here, so I would have preferred a two-hour cut versus cutting some elements to expand on the fundamental plot points. As constructed, it exists in a middle ground where it is not short, fast, and dumb enough to be mindless fun, but it also isn’t thought out well enough to be a gripping thriller.

Soto and LeBeouf especially give excellent performances that carry the film when the story falters. Unfortunately, no matter how great he was, there will be a degree of blowback about LeBeouf’s characterization of Creeper. LeBeouf is a blend of Cajun/French (Father) and Jewish (Mother), what he is not known to be is part Latinx. One or two lines about Creeper’s real name and backstory or even a joke about no white people being invited to the quinceañera would have erased all complications. In the movie, no one claims that Creeper is Latinx, which means we should take Ayer at his word that –

“Shia is playing a whiteboy who grew up in the hood. This is a Jewish dude playing a white character. Also, the only white dude in the movie.”

Someone emulating or being an active participant in the culture that raised and embraced them is something everyone can understand. Because everyone that sees the trailer or the film itself cannot and will not see this tweet, there will forever be accusations of imitation at best and erasure at worst.

The cinematography of Salvatore Totino (Spider-Man: Homecoming) has a lot in common with LaBeouf’s Creeper. Both are sleek with a great sense of style, which makes their intermittent brutality even more effective. Unlike Creeper, who barely gets out of the gate, Totino gets to show off for the full 95-minute runtime. There are a few scenes where the camera should have cut earlier than it did. The practical effect prosthetics used throughout the film are laughably bad. I don’t know if it was a budget problem, a timing issue, or a lack of experience. They veer so far from realistic it would have been better not to show them and trust the actors to deliver the horror.

Ayer is working with editor Geoffrey O’Brien for the 4th time. Perhaps my biggest complaint about the film rests on one of their shoulders. A 95-minute Action Crime Thriller with so many good qualities should feel like it is over in the blink of an eye. Instead, I was surprised multiple times when I noted how much time was remaining. The movie is mostly building to the moment Conejo makes his move; once he does, things don’t stop until a winner has been decided. The majority of that build up is centered around David’s family, his past with the Bloods, and why people think Creeper is the devil. Only one of those elements has anything nearing a satisfying story arc.

Shia-gate will turn away some viewers, but many more will be brought in by Ayer’s filmography and his return to what he does best. Whether the people who choose to tune in have a great time or are confounded by the interpersonal relationships, everyone will agree that the movie didn’t meet its potential. Strong performances, beautiful cinematography, and a couple of great story moments will catch anyone’s attention. Still, the imperfections are just below the surface and cause you to wonder what could have been.

Rating: NR
Genre: Action & Adventure, Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: David Ayer
Written By: David Ayer
In Theaters: Aug 7, 2020 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Aug 7, 2020
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: RLJE Films

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