The Tax Collector

The Tax Collector, released August 7, 2020, starring Shia LeBeouf and Bobby Soto, directed By: David Ayers 

Review by Allan L Branson

Violent movies aren’t for everyone. Similarly, neither is becoming an urban police officer. It is with this personal and professional perspective that I am reviewingThe Tax Collector. Full disclosure, not since Scarface (DePalma, 1983) have I seen a portrayal of drug induced street violence as disturbing. This is in part due to its realism. The creator of Training Day, End of Watch David Ayers (the writer), and Shia LeBeouf, the son of a former Mongol, team up in this portrayal of drug gang violence on the streets of east L.A. For the uninitiated the Mongols, M.C. are what law enforcement refers to as an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (OMG).

LeBeouf, a controversial actor to be sure, is “Creeper”, is a remorseless street enforcer for a local drug dealer. While LeBeouf starred with Tom Hardy in Lawless (2012), in a role regarding a criminal enterprise (bootlegging) where his character had some redeeming qualities, this one not so much. The most significant criteria for me when critiquing any film is whether the actors challenge themselves and reveal their range. Denzel did it in Training Day,to the delight of many and won an Oscar for his realistic portrayal of a “gangsta” cop.

The tone of this movie is set early on. As they drive to an appointment, LeBeouf’s character advises his boss/friend “David” of all the weapons he has on his person and is subsequently advised that he will go to hell. In response “Creeper” responds “…I’m cool with that….” It has been suggested that LeBeouf’s portrayal is of a racist caricature and that his behavior is cartoonish. For the record, few movie critics were cops, therefore like everyone else who is not, what they know of the true criminal urban landscape is bupkis. I would dare say this actor and cast have more street bona fides than any movie critic. His boss, “David” is convincingly portrayed by Bobby Soto, but then again this is not Gone with The Windor From Here to Eternity, so what could be so hard? The point being that none of these actors are delicate pottery, and most are well familiar with the realities of east L.A. drug culture including Mr. Ayers. 

George Lopez as “David’s” old school “Uncle Louis” will not bow down to a Santeria (afro-Cuban religion)devoteedrug lord, back to reclaim what is his. I think Mr. Lopez enjoys acting as much as comedy and always renders a sincere performance. Cinthya Carmona’s character “Alexis” is David’s wife and renders a strong performance. Initially, viewed as a fragile prima donna, the audience soon discovers that she is the fuel that keeps “David” in the drug game. Her character is passively ruthless but not invincible. Miss Carmona has not had a breakout role yet, but her performance here is convincing.

In a sea of villains, it’s hard to determine who the true bad guy is. Enter Cheyenne Hernandez as the bad girl “Gata,” and enforcer and fixer for the real bad guy. Her performance while brief was noteworthy. Lastly Jose Conejo Martin (a real rap artist), is frightening in his portrayal of “Conejo.” He and David Ayers are childhood friends and so convinced the writer to allow him to use his real name. The addition of the Santeria aspect only adds to his creep-factor. This actor/rap artist gives and outstanding performance. In an interview when asked about his performance Mr. Martin stated, “I just did me!” And apparently he is a practitioner of shall we say a non-Christian religion. Scary. This movie is not for everyone but it’s a damn good ride from the safety of your home, into what Scorsese (1973) has termed the “Mean Streets.”