Review by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker David Ayer first made a name for himself as the writer of gritty crime dramas such as Training Day and Harsh Times before transitioning into making more conventional big-budget fare. The Tax Collector marks his return to the genre that gave him his roots, but unfortunately, it feels more like an attempt to recapture his glory days than a legitimate attempt at making something compelling.
The movie follows a collector for a Los Angeles gang as he finds himself fighting for his life when his boss’s rival returns in a bid to take over the territory. Whereas his early films worked because of their refreshingly dark approach to familiar ideas, this simply rehashes the plot of better movies that came before in a way that is too campy to be taken seriously but not loose enough to be fun.
That said, the single biggest problem in the film is that it deals heavily in stereotypes. It’s clear that the script is written by someone who only superficially observed Latino culture, the soundtrack filled with the two extremes of Chicano rap and mariachi and every character speaking in ambiguous idioms and metaphors.
There has been some pre-release controversy in relation to a white character played by Shia LaBeouf, and while the character isn’t as offensive as it would appear at first glance, one is left to wonder why he was included in the first place other than giving the movie added star power. His arc goes nowhere and his effect on the narrative is ultimately pretty minimal.
Instead, LaBeouf’s craziness and “dedication” to the role will overshadow the work of Latino lead Bobby Soto, who is actually quite good. It’s exciting to see a Latino actor playing a hero in a mainstream action flick like this, even if it is riddled with clichés, and yet the white star steals the spotlight.
The pacing of the film is also problematic. Even though the runtime is just a tad over ninety minutes long, the main conflict doesn’t start until about forty-five minutes in, and by that point, it’s simply too late. The action sequence that makes up a majority of the final act is exciting, if nondescript, though it’s hardly worth sitting through an hour of boredom.
As for Ayer’s style, it’s clear that he’s working with a much smaller budget here than he has been for his last few flicks, and he seems to have invested the money in the wrong place. There is one moment with special effects so bad that it will legitimately leave viewers confused as to what is happening. And this isn’t the only underwhelming example.
The Tax Collector could have been really great had David Ayer recognized the things that made his early work so charming. In reality, it’s just an attempt by Ayer to prove (possibly to himself) that he’s still relevant.
The Tax Collector hits VOD on August 7.