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Writer/director David Ayer is one of those filmmakers who works with a distinct and unique signature. Stories of the criminal element, as well as the loyalty and violence within those circles, are time tested themes and part of Ayer’s stock-in-trade, and The Tax Collector’s existence only expands that particular body of work. While this movie will play differently to individual viewers, there’s no denying that David Ayer has crafted a compelling, if not erratic, crime thriller, with intense performances amid his usual thematic notes.

There are a lot of ideas in The Tax Collector, but only some of them truly play out through the film.

It’s really hard to watch The Tax Collector and not think that David Ayer wants to create his own crime saga that hits similar notes to Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy. Again, the themes of family and loyalty are built right into the story of David (Bobby Soto), a “tax collector” who we follow as he makes his rounds collecting from various members of the gang he works for. Together with fellow collector/dear friend Creeper (Shia LaBeouf), David tries to navigate family life and gang life, with unforeseen consequences regularly presenting themselves.

With a running time of just 95 minutes, The Tax Collector is eager to tackle so many aspects of David’s character in its compact package. That’s sadly not enough time to address all of the various themes that David Ayer builds into his script, however, which leaves the end result as a bit scattershot. While Ayer has no problem mimicking the structure and thematic fabric of The Godfather in The Tax Collector, it sadly doesn’t take the time to build that particular enterprise out to its fullest potential. There’s also an issues with the film’s editing, as scenes will cut back and forth in time as they play out on screen, which only makes pieces of the experience confusing,

Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf’s chemistry brings something special to The Tax Collector.

Thankfully, the ensemble cast in The Tax Collector help to ground the pieces of the world that do work effectively. A huge component to why this film works in the places that it does is because of the performances from Bobby Soto as David, and Shia LaBeouf as the aptly named Creeper. Soto in particular is impressive as the character that, if David Ayer’s intentions with the finale are any indication, could be a franchise starter. Walking the line between threatening and tender, David’s life is compelling, and that leads to the material landing much better fashion than if it were in the hands of a weaker lead actor.

Even more exciting is the fact that while he seems a bit underused in the film as a whole, Shia LaBeouf turns in a hell of a performance. While his casting has been viewed as controversial, especially within The Tax Collector’s predominantly Latinx cast, LaBeouf’s turn as an associate in David’s crime family juices up the energy of the film without turning into a caricature. Threatening, without going over the top, Creeper is loyal to his friend and his crime family, and shows even more of the skills Bobby Soto brings to the table, as he and Shia LaBeouf fall into the patented David Ayer patter between friends with precision.

While a bit unfocused in story and execution, The Tax Collector is still compelling viewing.

The Tax Collector is a compelling movie that won’t have a problem grabbing its audience’s attention, which makes the unfocused story that David Ayer is telling in the film all the more disappointing in the grand scheme. With such a short running time, the movie only really feels like it’s going places towards the end, and the obvious cliffhanger, while intriguing, could have landed on much more solid footing if The Tax Collector had been given more time to unfold. But make no mistake, once that final act begins, the adrenaline kicks in and you see some true Ayer-style action and carnage.

If David Ayer gets to continue the potential franchise that springs from The Tax Collector, he’d do well to give the next installment more time to breathe and slow down the pace. It’s compelling for sure, but part of why the movie so intriguing is because you wish it was a little better than it ends up being. Still, you could do worse for an afternoon’s worth of entertainment, and in the places that it does work out, the film is pure David Ayer.

6 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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