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Watch This Review

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Movie Review

Howard was always a special kind of man. He had a focused energy and infectious drive that not only electrified everyone in his advertising agency, but also drew clients to the firm like bees to summer flowers.

Now, I'm speaking in the past tense about Howard here not because he died, but because these days that version of himself is decidedly missing. Oh, he may be right there in the office with everyone else physically, but emotionally he's gone. In fact, maybe the idea of him being "dead" isn't so far off the mark.

You see, Howard's 6-year-old daughter passed away two years back. And the seams of his life came apart. No matter what his friends do or say, they can't draw him out of the isolating miasma of grief that suffocates him. He spends much of his time setting up dominos just so he can knock them over—perhaps a symbolic nod to the futility of life. And when he's not doing that, he's mailing scathing letters to Death, Love and Time, the three elements of life he feels betrayed him so completely.

Of course, his partner, Whit, and his close friends Claire and Simon, would never begrudge him his suffering. If they had lost what Howard did, they'd be a mess, too. The problem is, without him their company is suffering as well. And since Howard owns a controlling interest, they can't even sell it while there's still anything left of value to get rid of.

That's when Whit comes up with an devious idea. If Howard is truly so deranged as to write letters to Death, Love and Time, why not use that to their benefit? If they can prove him mentally incompetent, then they can legally slide Howard out of the equation.

What if they were to hire a trio of actors to portray human incarnations of those esoteric entities Howard so hates? It wouldn't be done to actually hurt him, but simply to expose the incompetent state Howard's trapped in.

Claire and Simon initially balk at the idea. But they soon realize that it's probably their only way to do something in a timely fashion.

What Whit, Claire and Simon don't realize, however, is that they may end up needing the counsel of Death, Love and Time, even more than their grieving friend does.

Positive Elements

Collateral Beauty demonstrates that we humans are all connected—especially when it comes to things such as love, time and death. We all long for love, the movie tells us. We wish for more time. And we fear death. Collateral Beauty also suggests that if we allow grief to consume and separate us from those we love, we become empty shells of who we should be.

The character Love tells Howard that she is a part of everything—from the moment of birth to moments of great loss. And if people can accept that fact, they can learn to heal and repair their broken lives. She also talks to Whit, who talks about the feeling of great love that overwhelmed him when his daughter was born.

Death speaks with Simon and articulates the importance of not just living right, but doing right by those you love when it's time to die. Time makes it clear that we all tend to waste so much of the gift he has to give.

Spiritual Content

In a recovery group that Howard attends, parents who have lost children speak of their loss and associated feelings. Some allude to subtle spiritual connections. One mother, for instance, voices her belief that our lives are but a "blink in heaven." Another woman tells a story of her son saying he was "going home" to someplace warm and welcoming on the night he died.

Howard says he prayed to Death and tried to bargain away his own life in exchange for his ailing daughter's. He also yells heatedly about what he sees as the failings of various religions, including "the Christians and their salvation."

For their part, the film's three anthropomorphized entities leave out any mention of faith in their monologues about healing and loving. But it would only be a short leap for Christian viewers to make a biblical connection to these significant realities in an after-movie conversation.

Sexual Content

We learn that Whit cheated on his wife, which led to their divorce and drove a wedge between him and his daughter, who labels him a "philanderer." The actress who plays Love wears a low-cut blouse at one point.

Violent Content

Amid his deep depression, Howard rides his bicycle against traffic, right down the middle of a busy intersection. He purposely knocks someone off a skateboard, causing the young man to sprawl in the street. Elsewhere, one ill character vomits blood.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and 10 s-words join one use of "b--ch" and two of "h---." God's name is misused three times.

Drug and Alcohol Content

None.

Other Negative Elements

Even though Whit, Claire and Simon convince themselves that their actions are for the best, what they do to Howard still constitutes a huge betrayal of friendship. A private investigator breaks the law in an effort to gather evidence against Howard.

Conclusion

If you've read anything about this film, you might have noticed how some critics have tried to nudge Collateral Beauty into the derogatory category of "Sappy Christmas Movie." And if you've seen this film's trailer—featuring a guy who's confronted by corporeal versions of Love, Time and Death—you might even be expecting a Dickensian Christmas Carol-like visitation story.

But in fact, there's really nothing Christmasy about Collateral Beauty at all. There's no mention of a Savior. No jingle bells or carolers in the square. No falling snow on glistening city streets. It's just an emotional movie that happens to be coming out … at Christmas.

That's not a critique. Just a necessary clarification.

Collateral Beauty might best be described as a stylized, dramatic examination of our human frailties. More specifically, it addresses the sometimes debilitating anguish of suffering.

Now, that may sound like a pretty bleak subject to spend two hours of moviegoing time with during the holidays. But it's handled here with an enthusiastic cinematic hand. The story is imaginative. The acting is solid. The resolution is emotional. The content is navigable. And the whole production feels like a mildly melodramatic stage play that isn't afraid to take its time and to wax poetic with its philosophical musings.

You'll find no warm around-the-hearth moments or even thoughtful spiritual messages here. In fact, the film's dramatic ruminations are rather humanistic in their approach. But by the time the credits roll, you'll be thinking not only about the protagonist's choices, but about your own: the choices we all make as we trek through this painful, problematic and priceless journey we collectively call life.

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

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