'The Tax Collector' Movie Review: David Ayer Delivers A Mexploitation Film

In Ayer's THE TAX COLLECTOR, David (Soto) and Creeper (LaBeouf) are the "tax collectors" for a crime lord named Wizard in Los Angeles. They collect local taxes from local gang's activities, and live it up in style until an old rival played by Jose Martin aka Chicano rapper Conejo returns from Mexico to claim his territory. One look at the movie poster, and you know exactly what you're getting. 

Ayer's grew up in South Central Los Angeles so he's well aware of the culture of urban Latinos (before we were rebranded Latinx by some hipsters). He got his start writing cop thrillers set in Los Angeles with TRAINING DAY, DARK BLUE, S.W.A.T. and then as a director with HARSH TIMES, STREET KINGS and END OF WATCH. He writes what he knows no doubt, but Hollywood began taking notice after FURY earned him some critical acclaim. Then came SUICIDE SQUAD, a mess of a film that Warner Bros. ruined by taking over the final cut. His BRIGHT film for Netflix brought fantasy to the hood. The critic reviews were brutal once again, however it was a far better effort than SUICIDE SQUAD.

Ayer can't catch a break, and unfortunately his latest THE TAX COLLECTOR won't deliver the acclaim either. THE TAX COLLECTOR is at best a straight to video title. A B-movie crime thriller seems like a step back for the filmmaker. With a low-budget quality, THE TAX COLLECTOR feels amateurish with story, framing and low lighting. The less than stellar cinematography is a shock given that Director of Photography Salvatore Totino has worked on many big budget studio films like SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING, EVEREST (2018), and Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY just to name a few. In a family dinner scene for example, it seemed as if natural light coming in through the window was the only source of lighting, but the result was a strange glare over the scene. However, the cinematography strangely improves after 15 minutes in.

The low-key acting doesn't help either. Ayer's FURY star, Shia steals the show simply because he's a more experienced actor who can form an intriguing character in the midst of a weak storyline. There's not much background given to Creeper's origins being a white man who sounds Chicano. Maybe Creeper is the modern day Miclo (BLOOD IN BLOOD OUT reference). Or just maybe Creeper represents David Ayer who grew up in a Latino neighborhood and adopted the Mexican culture which in turn influences his work. It's left up to your imagination.

Unfortunately because he doesn't explain the white guy acting like a Chicano, some are claiming this character is a form of brown face. If you know anything about David, this is a ridiculous claim.  As stated above, Creeper is Ayer who grew up in the barrio of South Los Angeles. It's that simple. People need to be more responsible before making such accusations.  

However a more legitimate accusation would be to say that LaBeouf's Creeper doesn't live up to the name. For those of us who grew up in the barrio, we've all known someone named "Creeper." In Ayer's latest movie, Creeper talks a good game but we don't see him in action as a ruthless enforcer or muscle man for David. He stands around looking tough, but nothing in the action department. During a shoot out scene, you expect to finally see Creeper's skills, but the action is a bust, and a massacre ensues with no real resistance. What a letdown!!

The actors aren't given the chance to show depth like George Lopez and Lana Padilla in throwaway roles, but star Bobby Soto manages to elicit sympathy because he's a good guy so much so that you can't really see him as an enforcer. However, you're invested in his journey to keep his family safe, which is the story's saving grace.

Luckily Bobby is a refined criminal in that he's not the typical cholo or cartel honcho although those stereotypes are present as caricatures. He owns a nice home where he lives with his loving family. He went into the family business out of no choice of his own. It's a survival tactic when you grow up in the hood. In that department, Ayer's delivers an important message in that these sorts of criminals are driven to crime because of the lack of other opportunities afforded to a disadvantaged group. Up until the villain shows up, David's life of crime was paying off.

THE TAX COLLECTOR is a throwback to the 70s Mexploitation film. A subgenre of exploration films from the 70s coming out of Mexico. The common elements were violence, shootouts, drug trafficking, money and sex which you can find in THE TAX COLLECTOR. All that was missing from the film was a corrido, which is a wasted opportunity since the villain played by Conejo often sings about the criminal lifestyle.

Unfortunately this type of film contributes to the political rhetoric that Mexicans are criminals. However, there are fans of these type of films so no doubt THE TAX COLLECTOR is for them.

THE TAX COLLECTOR hits movie theaters and On Demand August 7.


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