Bobby Soto as David
Shia LaBeouf as Creeper
Written and Directed by David Ayer
The Tax Collector Review:
Ever since his 2001 breakout hit Training Day, David Ayer has frequently shown a love and devotion of Los Angeles-based storytelling harking back to his teenage days growing up in South Central and after exploring more fantastical tales in Suicide Squad and Bright, the latter of which is still in LA, The Tax Collector sees the writer/director seeking to return to more grounded and real storytelling, but mostly dropping the ball as he tries to tap back into a world he’s been out of for over five years.
David and Creeper work as “tax collectors” for a crime lord named Wizard, collecting his cut from the profits of local gangs. But when Wizard’s old rival returns to Los Angeles from Mexico, his entire business is upended, and David finds himself desperate to protect what matters most to him — his family.
The opening 20 minutes or so of the film is a fairly intriguing setup for the rest of its story, showing a criminal underworld far more expansive and organized than normally portrayed for the Southern California city, and offers a few interesting characters in comparison to most cardboard gangster portrayals of crime thriller’s past. By putting audiences in the passenger seat with David and Creeper as they tour Los Angeles acquiring taxes, we tap into the buddy tropes Ayer frequently throws into his films, though it doesn’t feel like an uninteresting retread but rather a fun introduction to our protagonists and their world.
But once the film continues past its first day and expands into a more tempered gangster epic akin to The Godfather, it begins to lose some of its luster as it proceeds to move both too fast and too slow. For a film that’s supposed to be about a family man racing against time to protect himself and his family from the darkness of his work, all in the time frame of roughly 95 minutes, we’re not treated to a fast-paced story or meditative character exploration but rather a weird middle ground that fails to captivate.
The film takes its sweet time getting to the pin dropping and even once it does, it doesn’t feel like there’s any sense of urgency on the part of the villains in reclaiming the city nor in the “heroes” in trying to get rid of those threatening their comfortable lives and families. For a film as short as it is, it spends too much time setting up its characters and their impending dooms in no unique or compelling fashion, only getting truly interesting in the final 30 minutes or so when the proverbial shit finally hits the fan for David and Creeper. There’s even a number of scenes that feel more like padding and deliberate foreshadowing rather than subtle setups for character moments that when they do pop up later on, we’re not only groaning at the predictability of these moments, but also feel as though we’re being talked down to as we’re treated to dreamy flashbacks as if we forgot what happened 20 minutes prior.
Be it the smaller budget or a desire to keep things as grounded as the story, Ayer’s direction feels rather simplistic and even underwhelming, delivering a plethora of scenes with shaky camerawork and quick edits that make it hard to keep up with the plot’s progression or even just conversations in a scene. Ayer revisits the slow-motion technique utilized in Bright and Suicide Squad for a sequence that does prove rather thrilling, but it’s unfortunately cut short before audiences can truly appreciate the style on display in the scene.
The performances from Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf do prove to be relatively involving and captivating to watch, as both wholeheartedly commit to their roles of the family man with a dangerous side and reckless cartel muscle who thinks he has it all figured out. There are a few bizarre elements of LaBeouf’s performance and character, namely a latino accent that seems to fade in and out randomly and distracting cauliflower ears without any explanation to their origin, but he still proves a charming supporting player to Soto’s intense and arresting leading turn.
With a story that can never find a proper pacing or a unique path, mostly cardboard characters and uninspired direction from Ayer, The Tax Collector‘s only real bright lights are a couple of well-executed action sequences and strong performances from Soto and LaBeouf, resulting in another disappointing venture from a once-undervalued writer/director.