An all-star cast and the director of Amores perros are players in one of the better movies of 2003, 21 Grams. As good as it is depressing, 21 Grams is anything but light.
Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro are the big names in this character-driven film, all people connected by one tragic accident. Penn plays Paul, a man who was brought back from the verge of death by a new heart, and given a second chance. The heart once belonged to a father who, along with his two daughters, were killed in a hit-and-run. Watts is Cristina, the woman who lost her family and has since been living in utter sorrow. And then there is Jack, played by Del Toro, who, every time he looks at his two young children, is reminded of the three people he killed. As he questions God, Cristina questions why, and Paul knows there is a reason. But in the end, will revenge satisfy?
21 Grams is a beautifully laid-out film that must have been a bitch to edit, because chronologically, it is a mess. That does not mean that the movie is by any means sloppy, but for those that do not like films that jump around in time, 21 Grams is definitely not for you. There are several time periods interlaced at a single time, and for the firt 20 or 30 minutes, it is quite confusing to determine where everything is headed. Of course, the only thing that is clear is that everything will eventually fall into place, and it soon does. It must have taken along time to think out where (or perhaps 'when' is a better word) each scene should take place, but the result is quite impressive.
This editing fails in only place, and that is in the ending. By showing essentially what happens at the end early on, some of the suspense is taken out of the film. Sure, there is still the curiosity as to how everything will turn out the way that we have seen, but had a little less been shown early on, the ending would have been much more exciting.
Of course, the highlight of the film is the acting, which is purely top notch. While I favor Penn's performance in his other 2003 movie Mystic River, he is still quite incredible here. He definitely plays a much more down-to-Earth character here, compared to the more sinister figure in Eastwood's movie. Naomi Watts, who has shown that she has the potential to make it big with her Golden Globe-winning performance in Mulholland Dr. and box office success The Ring (not to mention her incredibly good looks), is the most powerful of the three, varying between loving mother, drug addict and revenge-seeking woman. She definitely dominates in the final act of the film. Del Toro is also quite superb as a man torn between what he thought was his place with God and his never-dying guilt of being a child killer. Expect at least one acting nomination from this movie; if not, it would be a travesty.
Though slow in a few parts, 21 Grams is an incredible journey through love, hate and misery; the story is a perfect blend of all elements, and brought to life through sensational acting. I was really hoping for the ending to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, but what I got was still an impressive piece of art that should not be overlooked come Oscar time.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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