The fascination in cinema with making money while living hard on the streets will never end. I don’t blame it either. A talented director can catapult that lifestyle to the silver screen and somehow make it relatable and compelling to even the most bougie of audiences. Probably the most notable example is Brian DePalma’s Scarface, a film that has stood the test of time and still finds its way into memes and the most privileged of fans quoting it. Its story of a Cuban immigrant creating a life for himself that results in the money pouring in is glamorous cinema. Despite his morality and the ultimate consequences, our questionable hero is the face of many posters and tells a story that continues to be relevant no matter where one stands on the politics of immigration. In THE TAX COLLECTOR, we find another story of what success can cost you when living that life.
THE TAX COLLECTOR opens up with typical morning family behavior: husband and wife cuddling in bed until the kids burst in. Breakfast spreads its aroma throughout the house until we follow the dad leaving for work. The dad is David (Bobby Soto), a “tax collector,” taking in thirty percent of profits made on the streets. Those who don’t pay up, face gruesome consequences. David’s partner in crime is referred to as Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), a sunglass-wearing white boy who grew up in a primarily Hispanic environment based on his dialect. The tables turn on them, specifically on David, as their boss’ old rival takes over and he finds his family being threatened.
This scenario is not new for director/writer David Ayer whose previous credits include Harsh Times and End of Watch. Ayer is great at attracting mainstream actors to play not so mainstream roles, usually providing a hard-edged performance that keeps viewers glued to the screen. THE TAX COLLECTOR is no exception as the unpredictable LaBeouf continues his string of unexpected performances. He proves to be an underrated actor, but it’s starting to feel like he prefers it that way. Roles in smaller films like American Honey and Honey Boy showcase what he truly has to offer as an actor, but without the gimmicks some A-listers strive for in order to gain award recognition. He’s tough and isn’t afraid to embrace that onscreen.
LaBeouf may be the big name, but Soto is without a doubt a future star. With a dangerous yet approachable appeal and smoldering onscreen presence, he provides the empathy that David needs for the viewer to connect with. His street demeanor isn’t that of a monster, but that of someone providing out of love. David knows how to get the job done, no matter the cost. Soto and LaBeouf play off each other, especially in their entertaining car rides when hitting up their next job.
George Lopez also goes against his norm here as David’s F-bomb dropping uncle. He’s fun to watch and hope to see more of that kind of work from him. What really excited me here is that I’m a huge fan of the STARZ series “Vida”, an LGBTQ themed show with a primarily Latin cast. It’s juicy, emotional, sexy, and raw which makes it a shame that it ended after only three seasons. However, my favorite character from that show is Mari, played by the scene-stealing Chelsea Rendon who also plays a significant part here in THE TAX COLLECTOR. Rendon’s filmography exemplifies a diverse set of roles, but is just now recently finding her footing onscreen and I hope that continues for years to come.
By the end, it’s clear that Ayer loves embracing crime dramas, but he’s good at it. His eye on utilizing an unsuspecting cast of familiar faces helps draw attention and interest to an otherwise under-appreciated sub-genre. THE TAX COLLECTOR will entertain fans of the director and cast.
THE TAX COLLECTOR will be in theaters, On Demand, and Digital on August 7, 2020.