21 Grams
Starring:
Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Directed By :
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Grade
B+

Synopsis: ***************SPOILERS***************************
A good deal of this film is spent trying to figure out exactly what the story is, so any knowledge of the plot is a spoiler, really. The story revolves around four people's lives who have intersected due primarily to one key incident. Watts plays Christina Peck, whose husband and two little girls have fallen victim to a hit-and-run. The driver is Jack Jordan (Del Toro), a former prison inmate who has found God and dedicated his life to reform and religion. The accident killed Christina's husband and she allowed his heart to be donated to a needy recipient; in this case, Paul Rivers (Penn) who has been dying from heart disease. His estranged wife, Mary (Gainsbourg) came back to take care of him in his dying days, but moreover she wanted to have his child and raise the baby after Paul was gone. When Paul gets the transplant and survives, he tracks down Christina out of an urge to help whoever helped him. He learns about her circumstances and how she's suffering and begins to fall in love with her as his relationship with his wife continues to deteriorate due to her obsession with motherhood (complicated by the fact that she aborted their baby when they were separated previously.) Ironically, Christina gets pregnant by Paul, but he doesn't get a chance to find this out, amidst their plot to track down and kill the man responsible for the death of her husband and children. Jack had felt immeasurable guilt and turned himself in, but was let go when Christina initially saw no point in pressing charges. However, the guilt tore him apart, and he eventually left God and his family to work menial labor on the outskirts of the city. This is where Paul and Christina find him, and where their final confrontation takes place.
****************************END SPOILERS******************************

Who Will This Appeal To?: Fans of Inarritu and Arriaga's previous work, Amores Perros, all seem to like this film. Anyone who appreciates human drama or a good story will enjoy this.

Evaluation: Thing about this film is, it's told in jumbled chronology. In fact, about the first half of the movie is told in jumbled clips lasting between 20 seconds and 2 minutes. So for about the first half of the movie, you have absolutely no idea what the hell is going on. Now, Tarantino and others have popularized this technique in recent years, but usually to some point. In Memento, the editing was used to let the audience experience events as the main character would. In Reservoir Dogs, the storytelling lets the viewers bond with each of the main characters for a time before proceeding to the inevitable conclusion. In this film, I could make out no theme to the editing, no discernible reason to tell this story this way. The strength of this movie is the amazing performances, and the interesting story. These would've remained the strengths even if the story was told in a straightforward manner. I don't believe you would've been bored, or less interested in the characters. In fact, I believe these strengths shine in spite of the editing/direction, not because of it. So for many people, this style may turn them off from the film. For some others, it may serve to jazz up a 'regular' movie combined with the steel blue lighting and grainy film stock to make a dramatic 'indie' film. Or maybe this style was supposed to accomplish exactly that feel. To me, emulating an indie look isn't a trend I'd like to see perpetuated in Hollywood.

Final Verdict: I don't have a desire to go track down Inarritu's previous film now, but I will follow Sean Penn anywhere. He's absolutely riveting in this film, turning seemingly throwaway lines into character-revealing statements. Del Toro likewise turns in a performance that exudes charisma and demands your attention, as he always does. He seems less connected than Watts' and Penn's characters, but you stay interested in his part of the story anyway due to his acting. Speaking of which, Watts, while a less subtle performance than her leading men, does an extremely capable turn in her role (including a gutsy bare-all love scene.) These are the reasons to see this movie, for the phenomenal performances. If you can stand the pseudo-indie style described above, you're in for a treat.

It's All in the Details: Many people might not be familiar with the French actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, but back in '96 she did a turn in the critically acclaimed Jane Eyre, as the title character. Keep an eye out for more American films from her.

- - Jeff Light

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