21 Grams

"Good"

21 Grams Review


The title of "21 Grams" is part of an unfortunate concept-packaging gimmick which serves as a sign that writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu (the team behind "Amores Perros") felt they needed some kind of hook to tie their otherwise inspired picture together.

Its only relevance comes in a somber, philosophical voice-over imparted by Sean Penn as he lies in a hospital room, awaiting death's call through what may be the last few beats of his failing heart: "They all say we lose 21 grams at the exact moment of death," he muses in a weakened whisper. "How much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost?"

And why did these guys feel so hard-pressed to come up with some vague, mythical, unifying notion for this otherwise spellbinding meditation on fate and redemption?

A non-linear, emotionally escalating collage of three lives on a tragic collision course, the film is blessed with innovative storytelling and the raw, stellar performances of its three lead actors, who completely disappear into their roles. Penn plays Paul, a math professor whose marriage has turned discordant with his rapidly declining health from a fatal heart condition. Naomi Watts is Christina, a former drug addict whose pendulum has swung so far the other way that sometimes she can barely comprehend her auspicious suburban existence as a wife and mom. And Benicio Del Toro is Jack, an intense former convict who found God in prison and now clings desperately (and sometimes detrimentally) to his unbending faith as he struggles against his buried rage and against a world he sees as unwilling to give him a fresh start.

Reflecting the spiraling turmoil that comes to entwine them all in the wake of a catastrophic accident, Iñárritu provides a splintered vision of these lives, unfolding the story not in a chronological narrative, but in puzzle pieces of raw emotions and formative events -- an ambulance and the implication of a traffic hit-and-run, or a gun and what (at first) seems like thoughts of suicide creeping painfully over a character's face.

Through grainy, viscerally intimate photography, Iñárritu puts you in the room, but unable to hear the conversation, as a phone call shatters Christina's storybook existence. But he also glances at her moments of bliss and at her addiction's rock bottom from years before. The director puts you at Jack's dinner table where his newfound fire-and-brimstone beliefs are imposed on the man's struggling welfare family. But the film also recalls the character's most crushing moments of doubt and self-loathing.

The effect is not disorienting because there's a powerful emotional thread that emerges as the film's fractured timelines slowly come together and reveal how these characters' lives have been suddenly torn apart by the one moment in time that connects them.

As the puzzle pieces begin to form a picture, Iñárritu also reveals a healthier, heartier Paul obsessed (to an unsettling degree) with becoming a savior to a despondent, unwelcoming Christina, while at the same time throwing his own marriage into further turmoil. But whether this transpires during her addict past (and before Paul's heart problems) or her grief-stricken present (after a transplant perhaps?) only becomes clear when more pieces are in place.

In his 2001 Mexican import "Amores Perros," Iñárritu used similar storytelling techniques and a similar seminal event -- a car crash -- to weave together a tapestry of crisscrossing stories. But it isn't his ingeniously interlaced stylistic ingenuity that drives "21 Grams" -- it's the acting.

Watts ("Mulholland Drive," "The Ring"), a rising star who continues to chose interesting projects in between more commercial efforts, is gut-wrenching in her fearless portrayal of a recovered life thrown into desperate, inconsolable desolation. Del Toro brings his character's tenuous but crushing grip on his born-again fervor into sympathetic, sharp relief. Penn is more subtle but no less moving as he portrays a man consciously and subconsciously re-prioritizing every aspect of his life after accepting that he is still alive only because someone else's death made it possible.

Take away the wistful and excessively intangible voice-over that bookends the picture (a sure sign that the filmmakers didn't know what else to do for a beginning and an end), and "21 Grams" is a near tour de force on all counts.



21 Grams

Facts and Figures

Run time: 124 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 19th November 2003

Box Office USA: $16.2M

Box Office Worldwide: $60.4M

Budget: $20M

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Production compaines: This Is That Productions, Y Productions, Mediana Productions Filmgesellschaft

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 143 Rotten: 35

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Paul Rivers, as Cristina Peck, as Jack Jordan, as Michael, Carly Nahon as Cathy, Claire Pakis as Laura, as Reverend John, as Marianne Jordan, as Mary Rivers, as Claudia, Teresa Delgado as Gina, as Dr. Rothberg

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

Advertisement
My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

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.