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June 19, 2010

21 Grams

by Franz Patrick

21 Grams (2003)
★★ / ★★★★

“21 Grams,” written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, tells the story of a dying patient (Sean Penn), a mother (Naomi Watts) and an ex-convict (Benicio Del Toro) and how their lives collided in one tragic afternoon. The first time I saw this movie back in 2003, I wasn’t impressed. Seven years later, I decided to see it again because both critics and audiences liked it so maybe I just missed something. Unfortunately, I was right the first time. I’m not much of a fan of movies that try to tell their stories out of order unless they’re done extremely well because I think there’s just an innate narcissism in that technique. Instead of focusing on the story, the audiences become distracted and that’s exactly how I felt as I navigated my way through this picture. I was not convinced at all that the technique was necessary to enhance the experience because I’ve seen the same kind of plot time and again. However, even I have to admit that performances from the three leads were very strong. The actors were successful in implementing layers to their characters and it was great how sometimes their body languages were more expressive than the words they’ve spoken. I was particularly fascinated with Watt’s character: how she dealt with the loss of her family and how she almost regressed to the time in her life when the only way she knew how to cope was to drown herself in drugs and alcohol. I empathized with her character and I wanted her to overcome all the pain she had to bear. I also liked the look of the film because not only did it look like it could take place in the real world but the feeling it had highlighted the characters’ struggles. Their mental states reflected their surroundings such as a dingy hotel room, a house lacking in color, or an impersonal room in a hospital. I appreciated those details because I felt like the writer really put some thought into the material. Unfortunately, I just can’t recommend the film because it got too caught up in its own gimmick. Instead of really honing in on the themes and ironies of the picture, it was too focused on making the precise places where to cut to take us to a different scene and then coming back to it later when our feelings of anticipation have been somewhat diminished. If this had been told in a linear way, I think some of the clutter wouldn’t have been there. I also would have liked it if the film had tackled the issue of 21 grams a lot earlier instead of stapling it in the end. In fact, it almost felt as though it was footnote. “21 Grams” might impress people who haven’t seen a lot of movies like it, but I thought it was just mediocre despite the daring performances.

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