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Review: The Tax Collector (2020)

The Tax Collector (2020)

Directed by: David Ayer

Premise: Two drug ring enforcers (Shia LaBeouf and Bobby Soto) make their way around Los Angeles collecting revenues. They are put to the test when a rival crime boss attempts a violent takeover of their territory.

What Works: There is a ferocity and viciousness to The Tax Collector that distinguishes it from other street films. The movie takes place in the contemporary drug trade and virtually everyone in this movie is a killer. There are some extraordinary scenes of violence that go beyond what we typically expect in a movie like this.

What Doesn’t: David Ayer is a filmmaker best known for his street films. Ayer wrote Training Day and Harsh Times and he directed Street Kings and End of Watch. But Ayer recently tried his hand at more mainstream movies like Suicide Squad and Bright in which the director merged his streetwise style with fantastical stories. The Tax Collector finds Ayer back in familiar territory but it plays as though Ayer hasn’t let go of the comic book sensibilities of his two previous productions. The Tax Collector is pulled in irreconcilable directions. Most of the movie is grounded in reality but some sequence and characters come across cartoonish, especially a female villain played by Cheyenne Rae Hernandez. Her character and several others seem like they wandered off the set of a Transporter sequel. That disconnect is found in the action scenes which are sometimes quite raw and at other points highly stylized. The Tax Collector is also a morally confused film. The protagonists are killers; they murder people at the behest of a drug dealing crime lord. But the filmmakers try to insist that these are actually the good guys and that there is some meaningful difference between this pair of gunmen and the criminals coming after them. This shouldn’t be confused with the moral ambiguity and complexity of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad or The Godfather; those stories were about nuanced characters and the way they rationalized psychopathic behavior. In The Tax Collector, the filmmakers do that rationalizing for their characters. In a misguided attempt to hold onto a conventional moral appeal, the filmmakers create an incoherent mess. The final scene of The Tax Collector unveils a big twist that is supposed to pull the rug out from under the viewer. It certainly does that but not in the way the filmmakers intend. The final twist is ludicrous and it destroys whatever is left of the movie’s credibility.

DVD extras: Deleted scenes.

Bottom Line: The Tax Collector is a rambling mess of street violence and gangster posturing. It’s a film trying to have everything both ways—an escapist action picture and a gritty street film, an ambiguous crime drama and a black and white morality tale—and the result is a disjointed mess.

Episode: #837 (January 31, 2021)