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21 Grams
2003 - R - 125 Mins.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Producer: Ted Hope, Robert Solerno, Alejandro González Iñárritu
Written By: Guillermo Arriaga
Starring: Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melissa Leo
Review by: David Trier
   
So it’s called 21 Grams and it stars Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro – but no, it is apparently not about cocaine.

Paul (Sean Penn) needs a new heart. Jack (Benicio del Toro) has found Jesus. Christina (Naomi Watts) is happily married with two kids. But when Jack accidentally runs over Christina’s entire family and flees the scene, it triggers a bizarre and depressing series of events. Paul gets Christina’s husband’s heart and decides he has to meet her. They fall in love and decide they must kill Jack. But Jack’s been doing a decent job of punishing himself lately. Hopefully they’ll all find a nice, if not at the very least – depressing, way to sort it all out.

After marveling at all the magnificent performances, I still keep coming back to the same question. Who would read this script and feel compelled even a little bit to make this movie? It is quite possibly, the slowest, most disjointed and oppressive piece in recent memory.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro are nothing less than brilliant. Naomi Watts is a pleasing surprise. She’s always been a decent actress, but here she gets to do some emoting that is just tremendous. Supporters are solid, particularly Jack’s wife played by Melissa Leo. Both doctor characters are authentically played by Denis O’Hare and John Rubinstein. Acting connoisseurs will certainly find this an impressive study in the craft, but movie-philes as a whole are bound to be contemplating suicide about a half way through the film.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros) takes us on a slow and painful journey and doesn’t even have the mercy to do it in chronological order. The result is about an hour and a half of trying to figure out what the movie is about, followed by about a half an hour of having the movie explained to you. The plot is not helped by a superfluous subplot in which Paul’s estranged wife seems intent on being artificially impregnated by him before he dies. Renegade (or to some, sloppy) cinematography at times make this film amusingly stylistic, but it occasionally slides into pretentious Oliver Stone-like flashiness.

Little new ground is covered on bereavement and the anticipation of death’s approach. Some emphasis is put on the guilt of an irresponsible criminal in a way that is refreshingly original. But one couldn’t use those terms to describe the story as a whole. I know I’ve seen at least to other movies about people forming relationships with the relatives of organ donors, but I can’t think of their names – probably because they weren’t very good movies.

If someone close to you is suffering from a terminal illness, it might be fun to show them this movie as one last practical joke, especially if they’re bed-ridden. But aside from serious gluttons for punishment and people who care more about acting than story, 21 Grams is simply too heavy (no pun intended).
 
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

 
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