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Will Smith Gettin Jiggy Over The Years

Will Smith Gettin Jiggy Over The Years

From Fresh Prince of Bel-Air television beginnings and pop chart superiority to hit film leading man, Willard Carroll Smith Jr (better known as superstar Will Smith) is one of the few good things within dismal blockbuster Suicide Squad, equaling only Jared Leto and Australia’s own Margot Robbie, who first shared the screen with the established lead in the underrated Focus (2015).

Married to actress/dancer Jada Pinkett since 1997, their open relationship was often cause for media fodder. Lamenting flops with screen successes is a juggling act for Smith. For the two time Oscar nominee, it’s been the story of his career, carrying films with charisma and a Hollywood grin, holding himself well in below average films or transitioning in dramatic roles such as his latest Collateral Beauty (early 2017 Australian release).

An unusual film to be released during a holiday period and sure to spark debate, mysteries of this unique story are best left unsaid so as not to ruin the surprise, so no spoilers in this review. From the outset, the viewer is aware of the whimsical premise of what is to come after a terrible tragedy overcomes a successful New York advertising executive changing his outlook of life and connection with work colleagues.

Known more for his popular smart-mouthed action man persona, Will Smith in serious mode is often underrated. Six Degrees of Separation (1993) or second Oscar nod for Pursuit of Happyness (2006) are two fine examples of that. Effectively titled Collateral Beauty, he plays mild mannered Howard Inlet, the top notch media man great at his job while living life to the fullest until personal grief sets in after an awful incident.

The company allows space, however big money accounts are being lost and concern from his friends prove difficult reconnecting him. Anguish flows as Howard writes individual handwritten letters to Love, Time and Death seeking answers from the universe he feels betrayed him. Suddenly responses from these letters arrive in person, literally. Deep loss has changed Howard but looking and listening to what his visiting abstract concepts of Love, Time and Death have to offer him is an interesting cornerstone. Academy recognition aside, audiences haven’t embraced Smith in dramatic mode, even recent true story Concussion was overlooked.

Not the first choice for his giant action breakout hit Bad Boys (1995), he took control of the sharp trigger-happy Miami heat cop with the loud mouth leading to a similar character reconstructed as an ace pilot in global smash Independence Day (1996). Box office momentum flowed on again with Men in Black (1997) playing an almost identical character with a different job to do, the phrase Will Smith is just playing Will Smith, rang true.

Quoted as famously regretting turning down the lead role of Neo in The Matrix, in favour of starring in notorious empty flop Wild Wild West (1999), it insulted audience intelligence sitting somewhere between kiddie action and adult comedy, that has not stood the test of time complete with an awful rap theme sung by the former Grammy winner.

Taking everyone by surprise, his being cast as the legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali / Cassius Clay became an impressive masterstroke that earned him his first deserved Oscar nomination for Ali (2001). Like many sport themed films, it was not a money-spinner but secured Smith as a solid actor.  Son Jaden appeared in the amazing Pursuit of Happyness then After Earth (2013) was another Smith family affair with Jaden as the lead in this embarrassing science fiction non-adventure becoming almost as lowly received by critics and certainly audiences as Dad was in Wild Wild West.

Collateral Beauty is not as bleak as it sounds. Unexpected minor delights throughout the grandiose ensemble propel lighter moments without losing sight of the emotional impact involved. As the film moves into its cornerstone meanings, Howard’s plight remains interesting even edging out a wry smile for us and him on occasion.

Dame Helen Mirren is worth the admission price in anything, not to mention fellow English thespians Keira Knightley, Kate Winslet and Naomie Harris all in form giving separate machinations to their encouraging, strong characters. Edward Norton is also strong but the haunting performance from Smith has the most vivid shades.

Tears may be shed. No stranger to piling on the sentiment, Director Dave Frankel (Marley & Me, Devil Wears Prada), keeps up heavy symbolism here in a big way, almost too much, counting itself out of any upcoming award season consideration. Snow capped Big Apple locales are lovingly used adding some ambiance while Will Smith gives a solid, purposely repressed performance that is similar to the repressed Seven Pounds, than cocky anti-superhero Hancock (both 2008).

One thing is for sure, Will Smith is always going to be around entertaining audiences for a long time, even an uncredited cameo in Winter’s Tale (2014) drew gasps of delight when he mystically appeared as Lucifer. Prompting inevitable discussion, Collateral Beauty will divide ones thoughts. Overthinking hard about it long after the end credits rolled, the fantasy element mixed with tragic emotion is an odd combination that worked for me, just.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY: A Warner Bros production (97 min – Rated M).

Shane A. Bassett

Sydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.