21 Grams

"Extraordinary"

21 Grams Review


Following the funeral of his son-in-law, a father empathizes with his daughter by relating how he moved past the death of his wife, her mother. He reassures her that in spite of the hard times ahead, "life goes on." She retorts, "That's a lie. Life doesn't go on."

Welcome to everyone's life. Death is a ubiquitous occurrence, dumped upon us daily by CNN and more occasionally - yet still inevitably - in our own intimate moments. But when death strikes our lives, it invariably shatters our psyches and changes us for the darker, no matter how we try to prepare to accept it.

The three main characters of 21 Grams find themselves linked together by common deaths. A heart transplant has just saved the life of lecherous college professor Paul (Sean Penn), but the guilt of survival has overwhelmed him. Like a man who feels a phantom arm after it's taken by a thresher, Paul feels a phantom death and a crushing psychological debt to the donor.

Paul soon falls in with the aforementioned young widow, Cristina (Naomi Watts), a onetime party girl who traded in drugs and booze for a family life she had come to cherish. Cristina begins her spiral into desperation and bloodlust when Jack (Benicio Del Toro), a reformed ex-con who has fully embraced Jesus, commits the horrendous hit-and-run that sets the story in motion, an accident that rips him from his world of church and family and into punishment and solitude.

Against this gut-wrenching backdrop, the performances are astonishing. Penn and Del Toro writhe with guilt and loathing, and both teeter on the verge of implosion. Penn's cardiac issues seem to bubble up through his eyes, and Del Toro immerses himself in a self-hatred that seems all too real.

Watts is simply a revelation. Best known to American audiences for her star turn in the 2002 horror-thriller The Ring, this role provides a pale-gray canvas for her to display her acting chops. Even sharing screen time with two of the masters of emoting, Watts' devastation, rage, and bloodthirst sear nearly every scene.

But the real star of this movie is the Mexican production team of director Alejandro González Iñárritu, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, and photographer Rodrigo Prieto, who previously brought the widely acclaimed Amores Perros to American art-houses. Their new work tells its story in shards, moving back and forth through time in a way we haven't seen since Steven Soderbergh's The Limey. Disorientation sets in early as characters and settings change rapid-fire, but as the story develops it becomes both simpler and richer at the same time. Tears are never jerked; crying somehow doesn't even seem worthy of a picture this valuable.

The visuals are as much a part of the story as the script. Filmed in pallid watercolors against a bleak sky, Prieto's visions of bare trees, hospital ceilings, and an empty swimming pool overcast the optimism we expect from Middle America.

Gloomy as it may be, 21 Grams is ultimately hopeful, and while you won't emerge feeling uplifted, it's impossible to deny this film's rewards. The trailer notes that 21 Grams is the weight of a hummingbird, but it bears a heaviness you'll feel long after the lights come up.

Looking for a connection.



21 Grams

Facts and Figures

Run time: 124 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 19th November 2003

Box Office USA: $16.2M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 143 Rotten: 35

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.