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on July 16, 2004
You may not like the film itself, but you must admit the actors' talent -- Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro are all fantastic. The story, meldrmatatic as it is, is not a problem. The real problem is, you may not be absorbed in the way it is told.
See the characters first. Christina (Naomi Watts) is a mother of two daughters, married to a loving husband. Tragic accident happens to them (that you will see soon), and Chris can be what she was any longer.
The accident was caused by one man Jack (Del Toro), a devoted believer of one sect of religion, and he was also doing time in prison before becoming a fervent member. Jack is also a father of two kids, and one of them knows what the father did.
Christina's tragedy brings another man onto the stage -- Paul (Penn). We know he was going to die -- because of his heart -- but Christina's husband gives another life to him. However, Paul is still unhappy, as if he lost something (perhaps when he should be happy before his wife) And he meets Chris, the one he should never meet. After that, everything starts to rush lie a Greek tragedy.
All these ingredients can be told in the traditional storytelling scheme. The dirctor (of "Amores Perros") strongly refuses that linear narrative, and he gives a very experimental approach to the material --so unique that you should be very attentive to what is going on the screen.
THE FILM'S STORY IS BROKEN into pieces, and they, regardless of chronological order, are all again pieced together, as if hesitating to reveal the whole truth. Thanks to the taut editing and fast pace, you will not lose interest in what happened to these characters to the end, at which the film shows what really happened to them.
And what happened? They turn out so convoluted that you might accuse the director of being too intent on giving one or two too many surprise to us. In fact, though the film's first half is gripping, the second half gets a little dull, for by then we come to realize what is the reality behind these fragmentary scenes. The director tries to outwit us, but the last action of the film is, frankly speaking, preposterous.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu certainly believes in the power of film as media, and he is good at presenting his story, too. I know he wants to say something -- something about the still undying power of cinema -- sacrificing the accessible narrative method. But you see a dying person, and then see the same person alive and kicking, we find it somewhat disturbing and even pretentious. Why does he go experimental when you get a better way of telling that, in this case, chronological order? We want a better answer to that, in Inarritu's next film.
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on July 11, 2004
"21 Grams" is a gut-twisting, throat-grabbing, and disturbingly powerful film. Not in a long time has such a film challenged an audience to think about what they have just seen. It raises many questions, but that doesn't mean that it leaves the audience unsatisfied. It is certainly one of the best films I have seen all year long-or ever.
The film has many characters, but it pictures Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), an ex-drug addict turned housewife and mother. She has two wonderful daughters and a kind husband. To remain motivated in life, she swims with her sister Claudia (Clea DuVall) and stays in shape. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematics professor who has a fatal heart problem and needs a new, donated heart soon or he will die. His wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) desperately wants a child but cannot conceive, and will go to the extremes of artificial insemination to have a family. However, Paul does not agree with this idea. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is a spiritual ex-convict who preaches to prisoners in hopes of improving life and staying clean. Marianne (Melissa Leo), his wife, has grown weary of insistently going to church and is upset with his poor parenting skills for their two children. Meanwhile, Cristina's world closes in on her when tragedy strikes and she descends back into drugs and depression. The lives of these three people become intertwined and the audience knows that something terrible is going to happen because the film opens with Cristina screaming in a motel as Paul bleeds and Jack is frozen in place, listening to Cristina's pleading.
"21" is not a film in chronological order. It is, in fact, a film where the ending is shown at the beginning and the characters often know more than the audience, or visa versa. Little details and clues are fed to the viewer as the film progresses and crashes in a stunning finale. The title refers to the supposed weight that everyone loses at the exact moment of death. This is not a misleading title because this is a very dark, grainy, gritty, and upsetting drama. The disturbing images are subtle, and the fabulous photography helps capture what is going on so clearly. Everything is very dark and dim, and the camera is constantly shaking to get a feel for the lives of the characters. The editing is deserving of an Academy Award because it doesn't confuse the audience too much-it just doesn't give them everything they want right in the beginning.
The performances are all Oscar caliber in genius Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's tour de force. Sean Penn is pitch-perfect, but his character touches familiar ground as in "Mystic River." Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as a very disturbed but honest man. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo both are solid as the wives of the main characters, and at many times, the audience really hates both these women for being so selfish-if a film can do that, then the screenwriter and director have both done their job. However, it is Naomi Watts that really makes "21 Grams." Her performance is so captivating that you can't take your eyes off the screen. She will certainly come out of the Hollywood darkness in this one, making herself a well-known and more respected actress. She deserves an Academy Award because Naomi plays another character that you really want to hate and scream at. She is that good! All of the players are at the top of their game.
If you can sit through darkness, drugs, and depression, this is a great movie with a lot to offer and a shocker of an ending. All the performances are perfect, and the technical production of the film is first rate. "21 Grams" arrives at number 2 on my list of 2003 great films, and deserves all of its acclaim.
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on July 9, 2004
This is a good drama movie, but it jumps back and forth alot between the future and the present. This makes the movie very confusing at times expecially the beginning where you dont really know whats going on . This movie isnt that much about drugs as the title claims "21 grams" which isnt cocaine as i thought at first. Its about a man named Paul played by Sean Penn who is terminally ill with a heart disease unless he can get a heart from a organ doner.Paul is married but him and his wife are seperated but she has come back in fear that he will die.She wants to have an operation to fix her fallopian tubes so she can have a baby using Paul's semem that will be artificially insemenated into her after he dies. Its also about a mother of two Christine played by Naomi Watts. She has a husband who she loves very much and two lovely daughters. And its a about ex-convict, Jordan played by Benicio Del Toro, who belives he was reborn and was sent back to worship God. He has changed his ways and belives heavily into god acting in ways for a reason or fate. He has two kids and a wife who loves him very much and doesnt like who he has turned into. Christines husband Mike was walking with her two daughters and all of a sudden a speeding truck turns the corner and hits all three of them.The truck belongs to Jordan who didnt stop so thats hit and run and he could be seriously charged . Paul gets a call from the hospital saying there is an available heart and that he needs to come in and get an organ transplant. These three people are all connected in ways they could never belive. Paul wants to find out about his organ donor and stumbles upon Christine, the grieving mother.He falls for her but she isnt sure if she is ready for a relationship and she doesn't know about Paul having Mike's heart. Jordan turns himself in. Will he be charged and if so how long? Paul buys a Gun what for? Christine starts doing drugs after her families death what will happen there? Will Christine want revenge on Jordan? Will Jordan still have faith in God? You have to watch this movie to find out the conclusion to all these questions. Its a good movie confusing at times but a heavy drama.
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on July 9, 2004
21 Grams is a very dramatic movie. The story is not told in order but jumps forward and backward through time, which can be a little confusing. Sean Penn plays a terminally ill man who has less than a month to live when he recieves a heart from an organ donor. The donor along with his two daughters was hit by a born again Chritian ex-convict. Penn finds his donor's wife and has an affair with her as she grieves for her dead husband. There really wasn't much to this movie. It was very slow and only slightly interesting. The movie spends a lot of time establishing the background stories of the characters. It shows Sean Penn's character in the hospital, and with his wife as they try to get pregnant. She has to get a surgery to be artificially inseminated because of a botched abortion she had a while ago. When he learns of the abortion they fight and he seeks out his donor's wife. A private investigator leads him to her and they eventually sleep together. The donor's wife becomes depressed after her family's death and experiments with drugs before and while having the affair. The born again, who is a husband and father, has a long prison record before his hit and run, which he turns himself in for. You really have to like dramas to enjoy this movie. If, like me, you aren't impressed by slow but dramatic movies, then stay away from this one.
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on July 8, 2004
I had heard so many good things about this movie that I finally had to watch it. For the first 20 minutes, I had a hard time getting into it as it made absolutely no sense. Every scene contained different characters doing something disconnected from what had happened before. I almost turned it off out of boredom. But I am so glad I didn't!
Something extraordinary happened about a third of the way into the film, once the three main characters-- Penn, Watts, and del Toro-- had been in several scenes and I started actually getting into each of their respective storylines. Some of the things I enjoyed were Watts' performance, which had me in tears several times throughout the film, and the irony in some spots of the tragedy in one person's story juxtaposed next to a quick cutaway to humor in another person's story. I found myself intrigued with the way the story was told. The non-linear plot made it so much more haunting once I actually realized what was actually going on and was able to put it together.
To summarize, I thought this was one of the most heartbreaking but strangely beautiful movies I've seen in a long time. I highly recommend it if you want something different and experimental.
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on July 2, 2004
21 Grams is based on the quasi-theological calculation that at the moment of death, the human body loses exactly 21 grams of weight, and that is said to be the weight of the soul.
Sean Penn (not to downplay the stellar performances of Benecio Del Toro and Naomi Watts) plays maybe the role of his life as a dying man in desperate need of a heart transplant. Del Toro plays a criminal who has found his salvation in a literal and scary interpretation of Scripture, the love of a good woman, and his 2 children. Watts plays a woman with a sketchy past who has come out on top, married a great guy, and given birth to 2 lovely little girls. Their lives intersect around a tragedy, and high art/high drama are the result when the three of them meet.
Filmed in the fragmented, flashback within flashback style of Pulp Fiction, you have to keep watching on pure faith that it'll all make sense eventually - and it does, oh boy, it does.
Don't miss this incredibly complex, heartbreaking, redemptive film.
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on June 30, 2004
Alejandro González Iñárritu has made a bold film in an innovative style. The movie is not told in a straightforward fashion. There are approximately 40-50 scenes, and they are assembled in a non-linear fashion. It's sort of the cinematic equivalent of tossing 50 pieces of a puzzle onto a table and having to mentally assemble them.
For me, it works. I have read other reviews that weren't that crazy about it. Roger Ebert wrote that the technique got in the way of the story. Other reviewers here have complained either that it made the story "slow" or boring or that they just didn't get it.
I'd have to see the whole film reassembled into chronological order to be able to give an opinion about whether or not the film is better in its presented form or whether it would be improved by being more conventional, but I didn't have any trouble sorting out the various plot-lines in my head as the story unfolded.
Sean Penn gives another memorable performance as a math professor with a congenitally bad heart. We learn that he is less than a month from death unless he gets a transplant. Naomi Watts gives the best performance I've seen yet from this talented actress as a woman who is happily married to an architect with whom she shares two daughters, but we also see that in her past she did more than dabble in drugs. Benicio Del Toro is heartbreakingly good as a man who has lived a hard life and done some hard time before being saved, in the Christian sense. Melissa Leo is his wife, and she shared his hard life before, and plainly hasn't come to terms yet with his conversion as a born-again Christian. All of the main characters intersect in ways that I cannot reveal without spoiling, so I won't.
There are many other supporting performances given by actors who I was not familiar with, and my lack of recognition contributed to my ability to fall into the story. The film brings up many difficult questions, and I think it is one of it's strengths that it does not find easy answers to them.
It's a worthwhile way to spend 2 hours if you want to see strong acting, bravura film-making, and don't mind having to think about what's on the screen.
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on June 20, 2004
The director chose to tell this story in non-linear form. To me, watching the scenes out-of-sequence often felt as frustrating as trying to find a word in a dictionary that wasn't alphabetized correctly. The backwards technique worked in "Memento" because it fit the circumstances of the plot, but in "21 Grams" it seemed like a gimmick and interfered with my enjoyment of the film. Just to make things worse, this movie has an over-written plot that would be complicated even if told in a straightforward way.
There are a number of sub-plots, some of which are central to the main story and others which seem disconnected from the movie as a whole. The best example of the latter is the "artificial insemination" plotline which has Sean Penn's mate wanting his baby but being unable to get her tubes untied and healed before he is expected to die from a bad heart. Penn acts like such a jerk to her, I had no idea why she insisted on having his child. Aside from that, the whole, heavily-contrived idea went nowhere and added nothing to the film. By the way, do they really show porn videos in fertility clinics to assist the male donor in delivering the goods? On second thought, don't tell me even if you know.
On the plus side, there seems to be no movie that can't be improved by the addition of Naomi Watts. Not only is she a terrific actress, she's intensely sexy no matter how hard they try to make her look tired, doped-up, and washed out. And, wow, does she know how to do passionate kissing scenes.
Many of the parts seem miscast. In particular, Sean Penn as a mathematician just doesn't work for me. British actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, as Penn's wife, is a young Jacqueline Bissett who seems to have wandered off the set of Wuthering Heights. The film bears the weaknesses of an "internationalized" director who has a bad ear for American dialog, how it should it be delivered, and the casting choices necessary to make sure it gets spoken by the right actors.
I'm sorry to go against the crowd on this one, but I simply think the whole thing was an overwrought, disjointed mess masquerading as artful cinema.
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on June 19, 2004
This movie is only 2 hours long, but being so fragmented in deliverance it sometimes seems like it goes on forever. I didn't mind it the first time, but when showing my friends movies I start to worry about them getting bored or "not getting" the whole message. Regardless, the title of this movie had many people I know thinking it was about drugs. Drugs are only vaguely mentioned. The 21 grams in question is the weight of a hummingbird, a stack of quarters, and the weight a human body loses just as they die. The theory is that the soul is the item lost. This film is so compelling to me that it's made its way to my top 10 list, and that's a difficult feat anymore. I cannot even think of a movie to relate this to, since it stands on its own simple plot laced with fantastic acting, awe-inspiring direction, and a powerful mess of film editing. Maybe "Memento" because of the here-it-is-live-with-it method of drama, as well as the reverse sequence of events. "21 Grams" avoids any melodrama and cheap sappy shots, something the director could have easily dwelled on. The fragmented editing takes away any cliche's but still provides a powerful impact in the pit of my stomach. Any way, Jesus gave me this dvd.
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on June 18, 2004
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "21 Grams" employs an unconventional narrative to explore how one incident can bind together the destinies of three individuals. To watch lives change in an instant is a sobering experience. Almost as sobering as the claim that life itself may only weigh 21 grams.
Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a college professor with a heart problem. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is a former convict who has turned his life around with the help of his strong religious beliefs. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a married woman who finds comfort and stability in her husband and two daughters. A tragedy strikes that devastates Cristina and sets into motion a series of events that draws Paul into her life and forces Jack to reassess his most deeply-held beliefs.
Inarritu's decision to intercut the stories of the three characters in a non-chronological manner is jarring at the outset. However, if you stick with the film, you will be rewarded when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and the tale can be finally seen in its entirety. Penn and Watts are solid in their roles but Del Toro's performance is absolutely mesmerizing. You can literally feel the pain of Jack as he abandons everything he has come to believe and cherish in life. Eddie Marsan, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo perfectly compliment the leads with their supporting performances and prove invaluable in increasing the emotional impact of the unfolding events. If you're willing to accept the unique storytelling style of "21 Grams" then you will find yourself watching a devastating and absorbing creative work.
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