Review: Despite Impressive Visuals, Ruben Brandt, Collector Misses the Mark

The widely acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse received praise for a lot of very valid reasons: inclusive representation, excellent writing, a stellar voice cast, and more. Most noteworthy, and likely one of the biggest reasons that film took home this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar, is the film’s impressive animation style, a mish-mash of approaches that ultimately combine into an eye-popping production that completely subverts an audience’s expectations of the medium.

Ruben Brandt
Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

One suspects that Hungarian filmmaker Milorad Krstic was going for something similar in Ruben Brandt, Collector, an abstractly animated heist film set deep in the fine art world. The world of Brandt, a psychotherapist with a specialty in art therapy, is beyond interesting to behold, all sharp angles and Picasso-esque messiness. No one looks quite human, though clearly they are. Colors are mixed and mingled in interesting ways. References to famous and less-famous works and artists abound, so many and so frequent that you’ll likely miss many upon first viewing.

Not that one should plan to watch the film a second time. For all its achievements in unique presentation, the plot of the film is ultimately protracted and confusing at best, uninteresting at worst. Brandt is tormented by nightmares that feature famous works of art, from van Gogh to Hopper, and his analytical brain decides that if he can possess the works, he can get his issues under control. So he enlists a few of his clients, themselves tied to the art world, if through criminal means. There’s Mimi, a seductive and sly thief who always gets what she wants; there’s Bye-Bye Joe, a thug who’s good at carrying out orders; you get the idea. Thrown in for good measure is a detective determined to take down Mimi, tracking her across countries and continents, and a mobster trying to get his own piece of the heist’s pie. Eventually, all their storylines combine in ways that should play as a massive reveal, but only serve to further confuse the already convoluted storyline.

It’s an unfortunate reality for a film that certainly took a lot of effort to piece together, but perhaps not all is lost. One could approach watching Ruben Brandt, Collector like some approach listening to a new album, going deep on the musicality while tuning out the lyrics. Indeed, there are some quite impressive (if unbelievable, because: animated) action sequences, as the gang traverses the globe to (seemingly effortlessly) swipe masterpieces from gallery and museum walls. Their adventures even bring them to Chicago (for that aforementioned Hopper, Nighthawks), which is admittedly cool to see translated into Krstic’s abstract vision of the world, not to mention a bit of a welcome nod to our place in the global art scene.

Ruben Brandt, Collector was at one point in contention for the Animated Feature Film Oscar; it qualified for the honor just like better-known films Ralph Breaks the InternetIsle of Dogs and The Incredibles 2 (not to mention Into the Spider-verse). In such a strong year for animated movies, that this one fell short of a nomination isn’t a huge surprise. As independent animated films go, Krstic has achieved quite a lot, putting on screen a style unlike anything else seen in the year’s best animated films. That the storyline in the end distracts from such an impressively drawn film may be a dealbreaker for some…or it may not.

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Lisa Trifone

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