“I’ll ride with you till the wheels fall off…”

Three years since Bright hit Netflix, David Ayer is behind the camera once again for his latest film, The Tax Collector. If you’re familiar with Ayer’s filmography then you’ll probably think that the plot of this revenge thriller sounds right up his street.

David Cuevas (Bobby Soto) works as a gangland ‘tax collector’ for a crime lord we only know by the name Wizard (Jimmy Smith). David spends his days driving around Los Angeles with his partner Creeper (Shia LaBeouf) collecting his cut from the profits of local gangs’ (43 to be precise) illicit dealings. When one of Wizard’s old rivals returns to LA, David is thrown into the middle of a feud that threatens his family.

David is much more level-headed and empathetic than Creeper and this is displayed in a couple of tense scenes during their collections, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to show his mean side when push comes to shove. However, I would have liked Ayer to explore more of David’s struggle with the life he lives and the work he does. It’s clear in a few scenes that David only does what he does because it’s a family business and internally, he’s struggling with the morality of his work.

Bobby Soto carries this film with a brilliant performance that keeps your eyes on the screen throughout. David is a well-respected member of his family and holds a lot of power in the ‘business’. He is fully aware of the power and influence he holds, and we can tell this by the way he talks and acts around different people. For example, shortly after we see the partners threaten someone for money they owe, David is called upon by his wife Alexis (Cinthya Carmona) to do something about the “Mexican Kardashians” that are shopping in a store and keeping staff from working on their daughter’s quinceañera dress. When David turns up, he whispers something into the ear of a man accompanying the women and as his eyes widen, they leave the store almost immediately – much to his daughter’s delight.

Shia LaBeouf is an actor I will watch in anything. If a film has his name on it, you bet your ass I’m watching it. The Tax Collector is the second collaboration between LaBeouf and Ayer, the first being Ayer’s 2014 war drama, Fury. Shia’s character Creeper is a very different turn to his recent roles in The Peanut Butter Falcon and Honey Boy. His performance in this is still great, and his dynamic with Soto is brilliant – but his character doesn’t get to do all that much other than stand around looking tough and be the more threatening presence of the pair.

One aspect of the film I was intrigued about more than I should have been going into it was the massive tattoo Shia had done (for real) just for this film. The tattoo takes up his whole chest and stomach. My expectation was he’d probably spend half of the film shirtless – but alas, without spoiling anything he’s wearing a suit throughout the film and you see the tattoo for about 10 seconds an hour into the film and, for reasons, it’s barely visible and hard to make out – which makes me wonder why he went so far as to get it done? Maybe he really liked the design? Who knows.

Anyway, back to the film.

Throughout the first act, we are given a look into David’s daily life, his strong bond with his family, and an insight into the intricacies of the ‘business’ and the measures enforced by Wizard to keep their activities under the radar. Things begin to really ramp up in the second act and the film begins to take an unexpected violent and brutal turn. Once things get taken to the next level, the action scenes become a real standout of the film with some well-choreographed fights and direction. For those who get squeamish at the sight of blood, you might want to watch the second half of the film through your fingers.

The Tax Collector features strong performances from its two leads, even if LaBeouf is somewhat underutilised and not given all that much to do. Bobby Soto absolutely delivers in every scene and carries the film. Salvatore Totino’s eye-catching and colourful cinematography is brilliantly accompanied by Michael Yezerski’s score, and both really elevate the film. The story feels familiar and like something we’ve seen many times before, and whilst Ayer doesn’t really bring anything new to the table with his script – the film’s 95 minutes runtime is thankfully met with great pacing and fantastic direction that keeps the audience invested in the story.

Whilst things feel pretty predictable as it heads into the third act, the film hits the perfect runtime for the story it’s telling and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Tax Collector is well worth a watch.

Rating: ★★★

The Tax Collector is out in US theatres August 7, with a UK distributor and date TBA

Directed by: David Ayer

Written by: David Ayer

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Bobby Soto, Chelsea Rendon, Lana Parrilla

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