Let this be a reminder to not have sky high expectations for any movie. I’m a big supporter of David Ayer as a writer, director and as a person. He always goes for racially diverse casts in his films rather than just casting stars, frequently answers fan questions and criticisms on social media, and uses his platform for good in regards to raising awareness to certain causes. He has also written and/or directed some of my favourite films of all-time including Training Day and Fury. So when I say that I am really disappointed in The Tax Collector, it hurts, but it’s true.
The Tax Collector is Ayer’s first film since 2018 Netflix exclusive Bright, which was similarly panned by critics. It tells the story of David (played by Bobby Soto), a ‘tax collector’ for a criminal kingpin in Los Angeles. He is a family man, unlike his goon/muscle/friend Creeper (Shia LaBeouf). Now, I guess I had better address the controversy surrounding LaBeouf’s casting. He and Ayer are being accused of ‘brownface’ with Shia supposedly playing a cholo character, which isn’t true at all. Ayer himself has said Creeper is a ‘white boy who grew up around Latin gangsters.’ He has absorbed the culture surrounding him, much like Gary Oldman’s character in True Romance. Anyone that knows Ayer knows he is one of the most supportive director’s when it comes to casting minorities in films, even if they aren’t a ‘big name’, so the people calling to cancel him are either people that saw a two minute trailer and jumped to conclusions or people who read a tweet and jumped to conclusions. Whichever group they fall into, they can fuck off.
Back to the movie, the two sentences I said above is the majority of the plot given throughout the film, and that’s a problem. Ayer’s films typically lean to this environment as he himself grew up in this environment. As a white director, he has a unique perspective and a rare opportunity to tell these stories with rich, vivid detail while avoiding the typical Hollywood style of writing stereotypical latin gangsters and actually giving us proper characters. Unfortunately, Ayer fails here, giving us a paper-thin plot and characters with literally no depth at all. Our lead, David, comes across as a whiny crybaby rather than someone you’d expect to be a bit of a tough guy, having to collect money from all of LA’s street gangs. He is also a religious family man, giving a great chance to show real conflict between his life and his job, but it’s all shown through some expository lines of dialogue. LaBeouf’s Creeper is the most interesting character in the film, but that is thanks to his performance rather than the way he is written. You wouldn’t be wrong to think, going into the film, that Creeper is this tough guy that everybody is scared of, as that is the impression we are given in the film’s trailer. But he is never given that chance in the movie, and it’s a real shame as I am not exaggerating when I say that LaBeouf’s performance is far and away the best part of the entire movie. The rest of the characters can be described as either ‘Mexican gangsters’ or ‘black gangsters’. That is the depth they’re given.
I’ve already talked about Shia enough, so I will touch on the rest of the cast. Bobby Soto is not great in this at all. He does demonstrate great chemistry with Shia when they are onscreen together, but as the lead, he should be able to carry the movie by himself. Soto fails to do so when he is tasked with carrying a scene and it leads to some really boring scenes. I can’t really speak on Jimmy Smits as he appears in like two scenes and has maybe three lines, and he is someone I would’ve liked to see more of. Jose Conejo Martin, who plays the villain, was okay for someone who hasn’t acted before and I applaud Ayer for casting him as he is a pretty big part of the culture and it gives a real sense of authenticity to the role. On a sidenote, Conejo’s story is very interesting, give it a Google. Surprisingly, the one other actor I think is worth mentioning as being somewhat decent was George Lopez. Yes, that George Lopez. Former sitcom star and stand-up comedian George Lopez does a decent job as a former gang banger, but much like everyone else, isn’t given much material to work with.
So, most of the acting sucks and the writing sucks. How is the film on a technical level though? I can answer that with a resounding ehh. It is choppily edited, with the action scenes being almost unwatchable due to how shaky the camerawork is. It works in something like Ayer’s cop thriller End of Watch as that is shot from the perspective of the cops and is meant to be hectic. With this, it doesn’t work. There is a fight between our protagonist and antagonist and at certain parts, it is near-impossible to tell who is who because the camera is shaking so much. Shaky cam can work in certain instances, but it shouldn’t be as prevalent as it is in this, and a lot of other action movies. The score is also bland and unmemorable. With so much classic music from this part of the world, there really is no excuse for that.
Ayer has taken his fair share of criticism in the past for things beyond his control. Suicide Squad and Sabotage were both changed by the studios, to the detriments of each respective film. For Bright, he was only brought on as a director and had to work with the untalented hack that is Max Landis, a guy who fluked his way to writing one good movie (Chronicle) and got by on his name after that. But when given freedom, we get hits like Training Day, Fury, End of Watch and what has now transformed into a box office behemoth, The Fast and the Furious, which Ayer wrote the first iteration of. All of this makes the fact that The Tax Collector is a boring, underwritten, poorly-shot movie that needs an extra 30-40 minutes of runtime to flesh out characters and stories, sting all the more as, as far as I am aware, this is all Ayer.