The Tax Collector will probably forever be known as that film Shia LaBeouf actually tattooed his chest for, but it actually seemed like a film with a lot of potential.
LaBeouf has never played a character that is known for having a reputation as the devil and while this is typical fare for writer and director David Ayer, it’s the first time the director has introduced an element of black magic to his repertoire; unless Suicide Squad counts.
The crime thriller feels like Ayer was attempting to make something smaller and more familiar after directing films with $70-$175 million budgets the past six years. The Tax Collector has an estimated budget of $30 million and seems to be in line with that brother kind of dynamic set within the sketchiest parts of Los Angeles that Ayer has become notorious for.
The reports of Shia LaBeouf going “brownface” for a Latino character are humorous. Ayer grew up in South Central Los Angeles as a teenager and has injected those experiences into many of his films. Training Day, Harsh Times, End of Watch, and even Bright to a certain extent; all capitalized on Ayer’s upbringing and typically revolved around a Caucasian male having a buddy cop dynamic with an African American or Hispanic male.
It’s unusual that Neil Blomkamp is given so much grief over setting every one of his major theatrical releases in his hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa. David Ayer has made more films with characters being from Los Angeles and is a more successful director because of it or at least gets more filmmaking opportunities in comparison.
In The Tax Collector, a local crimelord named Wizard runs his business from behind bars. David (Bobby Soto) and Creeper (LaBeouf) work as tax collectors for Wizard. They collect Wizard’s share from every gang in town and if they don’t pay up then they face unpleasant consequences. Operations are running smoothly until a man named Conejo (Jose Conejo Martin) makes his presence known.
Conejo and Wizard have a competitive history, but Conejo now desires all of Los Angeles. Conejo wants to chew on Wizard’s old crew, spit out the ones that aren’t worth eating, and use that greasy wishbone to pick and choose those he sees fit into joining him. Turning Conejo down is basically a death wish and that’s the situation David now finds himself in with the fate of his family on the line.
It’s insane to think that this is the film Shia LaBeouf chose to center so many tattoos around. Creeper isn’t even in all of The Tax Collector; the character doesn’t show up until about the 20-25 minute mark.
Creeper never really puts his devilish reputation to good use on-screen. We see him dragging a dead body across the floor, smoking a cigarette in front of a bloody shower, and firing a gun a few times, but he’s otherwise all talk. His tattoos are also only showcased during one shaky-camera moment that only lasts a few minutes where they’re completely indecipherable.
Even as a supporting character, Creeper is the highlight of the film. While LaBeouf was chasing homeless men for sandwiches and generally being not that great in the public eye, his acting has still been phenomenal. He has this passion and intensity in every one of his performances; no matter how big or how small his part is.
The extremes LaBeouf puts his body through seems like his way of taking the roles that mean the most to him with him after shooting wraps. He’ll always have that scar under his eye from Fury and now Creeper will always be a character that stays with him forever.
Maybe it’s a type of ritual LaBeouf saves for the times he gets to work with David Ayer. He has an incredible devotion to commitment and it shows in every film.
There are also a few one-liners from The Tax Collector that stick with you; most of them littered with F-bombs that have to be edited here. Ayer contributed to the screenplay for the original The Fast and the Furious film from 2001 and it shows. “We ride together until the wheels fall off,” sounds like a quote lifted directly from that film nearly two decades ago.
The best line in the film is, “You’re a candle in the darkness.” The film revolves around this drug operation overcome with dirty money and bloodshed at every turn. That quote is hope; a twist on the well-known “light at the end of a dark tunnel.”
Creeper’s simple line, “Are we killing anybody today? I’ve got nice shoes on,” is so straightforward but a perfect representation of the character.
Anything not involving Creeper in The Tax Collector isn’t worth watching. The opening and end credit sequences are really awful CGI. The artwork/graffiti is a reputation of Hispanic culture, which is fine but its presentation is trash. It feels so dated and is noticeably out of place and clunky compared to the rest of the film.
The acting from the entire cast is atrocious outside of LaBeouf. Jimmy Smits and George Lopez are almost never seen not sitting down. Bobby Soto flounders around helplessly whenever LaBeouf isn’t on-screen with him.
David Ayer is known for recruiting real gang members as part of the film crew, so maybe acting isn’t their top priority. But Conejo is awful to witness, especially since he’s the major protagonist. The fact that he uses black magic is intriguing at first, but it ultimately goes nowhere. The “actor” has no other screen credits and it’s easy to figure out why.
All of the action of the film is in the last 45 minutes. Some of the action is somewhat impressive like the slow-motion sequence, but most of the scenes involving guns feel off somehow. This type of stuff has been done better by Ayer in other films written and or directed by him.
The camera does shake a lot as if it’s trying to add that element of authenticity, but isn’t quite succeeding. There’s also a lot of CGI blood splatters, which you’ve either accepted at this point or will always hate a film for utilizing.
The highlight of the second half of the film is when David sticks a guy’s head outside of a moving van and grinds his face on the road while they’re driving. The results are gruesome even for a guy like Two-Face.
The Tax Collector is marketed really awkwardly. Shia LaBeouf is promoted heavily, but notice how he’s listed last of the main cast. In this instance, there’s a reason for that. Him tattooing his chest for real has given the film a major boost in interest whether you think it’s the dumbest thing in the world or is actually kind of admirable.
The issue is that The Tax Collector feels low budget despite having a moderate amount of money at its disposal. The cast is excruciating and the action is lacking. David Ayer probably wanted to get back to what he knows best after Warner Bros butchered his vision for The Suicide Squad. It’s just a shame that the film we end up with isn’t good and pales in comparison to Ayer’s other works.
- Shia LaBeouf
- Ayer's usual grittiness
- Awful cast
- Mostly terrible dialogue
- Unpleasant experience overall