Review: Gritty 'The Tax Collector' gets a pass on style
Courtesy of RLJE Films
Considering the big budget demands of Netflix’s “Bright” and Warner Bros’ “Suicide Squad,” it makes sense that director David Ayer would return to his gritty, stylized roots. While it’s no “End of Watch” or “Fury,” the filmmaker’s latest, “The Tax Collector,” is the type of smaller scale indie he built a career on, but it also suffers from a derived narrative that barely fills its 95 minute runtime. Lest not forget that Ayer - who wrote “Training Day” and “The Fast and the Furious” - knows how to place characters in tight situations, and that’s what partially made his “Sucide Squad” an interesting experiment. Too bad it was upended by a studio who only had a vision for dollar signs and not artistic integrity.
At least with “The Tax Collector,” Ayer seems to be calling the shots and he reteams with “Fury” muse Shia LaBeouf for a head-turning performance that made headlines for the star’s robust methods (supposedly he got his entire back tattooed for his role, strange considering his shirt is on the entire film). Ayer also returns to the South Central streets that helped boost his career with “Harsh Times” and the aforementioned “End of Watch.” The latter focused solely on two police officers while “Collector” takes a different angle showcasing how strategic Ayer can be with his characters.
The tax collector of the title is David (Bobby Soto), who, along with his muscle and bonafide sadistic friend Creeper (LaBeouf) run the streets, collecting protection money from various gangs for the unseen “Wizard.” David has his castle, a lovely wife (Cinthya Carmona), and two beautiful children, but one doesn’t need to study gangster lore to see things won’t stay peachy for long. And like clockwork, an old rival named Conjeo (Jose Conejo Martin), a disrupter to the game with an eye for revenge, enters the picture hellbent on carving out his own empire. This place’s David in a tough spot, having to make choices and understanding the ramifications of those decisions.
What ensues is an all out turf war, and Ayer injects “The Tax Collector” with a fierce style and robust attitude. Considering the director used to be a South Central resident himself, the film constantly feels authentic and the shoot-outs prove entertaining. The audience gains insight into a behind the scenes look at how the Chicano gang is structured and operates, all while casting an ensemble made up entirely with people of color.
There are brief appearances from Lana Parilla, Jimmy Smits, and comedian Geroge Lopez, who manages to turn minor screen time and a throwaway role into something tangible. And much has been made of LaBeouf, the only non-POC of the film, and his crazy antics to get into character. But he’s also one of the more interesting ingredients the film offers because his performance is so unpredictable. It won’t go down as the performer’s most astounding work, but give credit where it’s due and LaBeouf turns in solid work even though, despite what the marketing would tell you, he’s a supporting character.
Which, ultimately, undermines Soto’s performance as David. When Creeper isn’t around to toss heads or throw insults, Soto struggles to hold our attention. Mainly due to the fact his character’s fate and route is so predictable and sluggish, you know where it’s heading within the first ten minutes. There is a late push to help reshape the narrative prior to the closing credits, but at that point our body and mind are numb to all the violence and perforated bullets, that it’s tough to differentiate the mayhem from the soul of “The Tax Collector. ” Still, Ayer manages to turn in something with style and substance despite all the headbanging and on those merits, the film gets a pass based solely on presentation.
THE TAX COLLECTOR will be available from digital platforms starting Friday August 7th. Check your listings.