The Tax Collector
The Tax Collector follows director David Ayer's usual formula for a gritty street drama, including a shoddy script and a cliche story, but the film is anchored by a magnetizing supporting performance by Shia LaBeouf and Ayer's ability to shoot crisp action through way of ultra-violence and gritty, albeit heightened realism.
Director/writer David Ayer (Suicide Squad) returns to his familiar stomping grounds of the gritty street-level drama with The Tax Collector, which borrows more than enough genre cliches from Ayer’s past works, including Training Day, Street Kings and Harsh Times. This time around, co-star Shia LaBeouf outshines the rest of the cast with a haunting, yet focused turn as the mysterious tax enforcer Creeper, while star Bobby Soto follows the laid out beats in a formulaic fashion, full of bloody revenge, but lacking that emotional core and crooked moral compass that plagues most of Ayer’s troubled leading men.
The Tax Collector follows David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (Shia LaBeouf) as they collect the “taxes” on the most vicious drug dealers in L.A. Their way of business is interfered with by a resurfacing enemy that promises to shake things up for the cartel, which may include blood. Now, David and Creeper must remain two steps ahead of this new-found enemy or their lives and the lives of the ones they love most will be thrown into turmoil and chaos as the streets rain down blood on all sides.
Yes, The Tax Collector is yet another predictable David Ayer joint that has occasional highlights or bright spots, only to be engulfed in Ayer’s usual filming setbacks. For starters, the script is paper thin, balancing on cheap story tactics to ensure a few emotions are touched while the film breezes by most of the setup and characters in exchange for quick flashbacks and constant reminders that David is a “good person” and that despite he and Creeper’s hellacious and methodical methods — there are worse guys out there.
This is supposed to maybe humanize David and make you feel for him and his loving wife and children, despite the fact that they threaten death onto others in the same boat. But hey, it’s a dog eat dog world and whoever has the sharpest teeth and the loudest bark generally ends up on top, until tested by one with the meanest bite.
And that’s what The Tax Collector is, if not also a test of patience as Ayer continuously throws recycled (from his own films!) cliches one after another.
And that’s not to say that Ayer isn’t a talented filmmaker. I generally think nobody gets the street-level crime dramas like Ayer. His attention to detail, ability to expose grit, slime and shade is unlike any other. Harsh Times is a tour de force thanks to Ayer and Bale, while Training Day is an all-timer and Street Kings is a personal favorite.
But Ayer is simply reusing the same bag of tricks, only this time with far less talented individuals and a much looser story that really only gets jacked up whenever Shia LaBeouf drops by to steal a scene.
Don’t be fooled by the trailers — LaBeouf is a supporting player and dare I say not all that key to the overall film in the sense that his brief moments are magnetic and unhinged, but those moments are indeed brief and don’t really leave a lasting impression, not because of LaBeouf (the dude can act), but because of Ayer’s script not really calling on him to do more heavy lifting.
Bobby Soto is fine as the leading man. Convincing? Sure. The best guy for the job? Likely not. I don’t discredit Soto as much as I do Ayer for giving him absolutely nothing to work with. The script literally has him going from being this tough-as-nails money collector to this complex, kind and caring father at the crack of a bullet. Only to flip the switch and turn him into this full-on revenge-seeking bad ass with no real experience, yet is suddenly the most on-point marksman of the entire film.
It’s a stretch and one that Ayer leans into hard without giving us the material to really back the statements being made on the screen. This made a lot of the film feel very superficial and phony compared to Ayer’s usual gifts of capturing these types of characters with such range. You almost always hate an Ayer lead, yet you can’t help but to want them to succeed or get out of whatever problem that they are in. Unfortunately, this isn’t true this time around.
Most write off Ayer’s films as simple street dramas that glorify violence for the sake of it and I am generally the one stepping up to defend him, yet this time I don’t really have too much to say aside from the fact that yes, The Tax Collector is ultra-violent and Ayer shoots his action with crisp and clean camerawork that highlights the practical effects wonderfully. But most of it is void of any real emotion or weight, which renders it mostly useless.
I was engaged with The Tax Collector for 1/3rd of the time, enjoying seeing a hard ass performance by George Lopez and again, hooked any time Shia LaBeouf stepped in front of the camera, but even LaBeouf can’t save Ayer’s laziness and inability to move forward as a filmmaker.
I’ll still go to bat for any film he makes, because he is a gifted filmmaker that when paired with the right material, can create miracles with his particular energy. I still think Ayer makes a mean and gritty crime drama unlike any other, but The Tax Collector is sadly just another exercise of the muscles for him, occasionally showing some skill, but mostly showing us a director that is out of shape and in strong need of a resurgence.