21 Grams

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Movie Review by Stephen Doyle

Starring: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

If further proof be needed that Sean Penn is the greatest and most powerful actor working in America today, then look no further than 21 GRAMS. Hot on the heels of a powerhouse performance in MYSTIC RIVER, which may well see him winning an Oscar, Penn is again marvellous in 21 GRAMS.

The film focuses on three separate characters whose lives inter-relate. Penn plays Paul, a deep and bitter man who comes very close to dying while waiting for a heart donor. A heart arrives just in time and Paul gradually returns to full health, at which point he dumps his faithful girlfriend who nursed him through his illness, and begins taking a peculiar interest in the donor who saved his life. Said donor is Christina’s (Naomi Watts) husband, who died, along with their two children, when they were run over in a hit and run. The man who happened to be behind the wheel in this hit and run incident was Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro), an ex-con and former alcoholic turned fanatical Christian.

This is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow up to his astonishing and internationally acclaimed Mexican hit AMORES PERROS. 21 GRAMS is not quite as impressive. It seems ponderous at times, as the plot is not dense enough to justify the 2 hours+ running time. The film seems to contain a lot of unnecessary padding and repetition and would probably have benefited from being 20 minutes shorter.

Having said this, 21 GRAMS remains an engrossing and original film, which maintains an arresting visual style throughout. The main incentive to see it is the awesome acting from the three leads. Naomi Watts delivers one of the best female performances of the year. She displays a wide range of emotions convincingly and this role should do her career a great deal of good. Benicio del Toro, an actor whose odd features and weird presence has always slightly confused me, proves himself to be a character actor of the finest calibre. Sean Penn, meanwhile, displays amazing presence. He says little in the film, but is one of those fortunate actors who can suggest as much with silence as he can with words.

The most notable thing about the film is the wild use of time scale. Remember PULP FICTION and how the beginning, the middle and the end were all juggled around? In 21 GRAMS every single scene is juggled around. So the first scene we see may be from the end, the next one from the middle, the next one from the beginning and so on. No two consecutive scenes that we see are in chronological order and this continues all the way till the end of the film. It is unlike anything I have ever seen in a movie before. It is very clever, and although initially it is difficult to work out what is going on, after a while everything makes good sense, and it all works well. But I could not help wondering what the point of it was.

21 GRAMS does require patience. The acting and the characterisation just about justify the long running time, but the plot does not. Nevertheless, it is great to see Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts prove their worth so convincingly, in three very tough and challenging roles.

5 out of 6 stars