WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD. Director David Ayer (End of Watch, Fury, Suicide Squad) is someone with a very distinct style. The down and dirty style of Ayer is one that has drawn a lot of controversy due to being overly gratuitous. If you’re in that camp, then his latest LA-based gangster film won’t win over any new fans. The story follows a “tax collector” (Bobby Soto) and his right-hand man Creeper (Shia LeBeouf) who travel around Los Angeles, taxing street gangs in the name of the Mexican Cartel. When a rival of the cartel appears in LA, tax collector David (Soto) finds his world upended in all the wrong ways. Before I saw the film and heard that premise, I thought it would be something right up my alley. After seeing the film, I couldn’t have been more wrong as to what I got.
Full disclosure, when I was really digging deep into recent films, David Ayer’s movies always struck a chord with me. It wasn’t that they were necessarily the greatest, they just checked off all the boxes of what I wanted to see in action films. They all explored an interesting subculture of the crime genre, much like "The Tax Collector" does. For the first 40 to 45 minutes, this one was checking off all the boxes of what I like in this genre. There was action, suspense and a really cool and interesting take in a world that I didn’t know much about. Even our protagonist David (Soto) had some interesting complexities that I did not expect. It’s just unfortunate that even with interesting supporting players (LeBeouf), that the world wasn’t as explored as it could have been.
A lot of people have complained about LeBeouf’s character being a racist concoction signifying cultural appropriation. While I feel it is definitely not without its flaws, I would argue that the idea of that character is the film’s most interesting aspect. Director Ayer himself has spoken about the character and said, “He plays a white boy who grew up in the hood." The film doesn’t disclose that, but it's an interesting idea that I found unique for this kind of film. Most of the praise in the film would have to be given to the chemistry between LaBeouf and Soto. Like his best film “End of Watch," when Ayer simply lets these guys riff, it’s an absolute joy to watch.
Besides the blatant racism in every brown character being a gangster or brutal killer, my biggest issue in the film would have to be the brutal violence. I am certainly not saying I can’t handle the violence—there’s a way you can do it well, like Tarantino—there’s just a line this film draws. Unlike a typical “cartel” these villains are absolutely satanic. From violent shootouts that lead to heads being blown off, there is something done with the villain that left me absolutely revolted. In a scene involving a female sacrifice and literal bloodbath, it came across as nothing more than nasty. I like action, but I don’t need blown off or decapitated heads and grisly murder continuously for 95 minutes.
In violent action-based cinema, there is a line you draw as a director behind the camera. You can either lean into the violence making it cartoonish or treat it for the brutal carnage it is. In Ayer’s case, he doesn’t do either which puts him in a grey space, making you feel uncomfortable. It’s a rather frustrating film because what works is exceptionally well done in some places. But once you reach the climax and closing credits, it’s just hard to not want more than what you get. "The Tax Collector" is certainly not a complete disaster, it’s just a film that wastes its strongest assets.
Watch the trailer here.