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21 Grams (2003)
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Review Date: September 07, 2003
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Producers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Ted Hope, Robert Salerno
Actors:
Sean Penn
Naomi Watts
Benicio Del Toro
Plot:
The lives of three perfect strangers are changed forever after a car accident connects them in a very deep way. Consider the college professor with the bum heart and clingy wife, the ex-drug addict with a wonderful husband and two cute kids, and the ex-convict, trying to make a better life for himself and his family. 21 GRAMS is the weight we lose when we die, the weight carried by those who survive.
Critique:
Engaging, meaningful, powerful dramas are few and far between, especially in the "it's all about the opening weekend box-office gross!" mindset of Hollywood these days, but thankfully there are still a handful of people out there who are willing and able to slap together pieces of film which actually manage to present us with stories that can, not only retain our full attention, but even more importantly, affect our lives in a way more fulfilling than just a vehicle of entertainment. 21 GRAMS is a film which intertwines the lives of three lead characters-- much like our own lives are undeniably interlaced with the lives of those around us-- showing us both the positive and negative ripple effects of one person's action on others and how each person deals with that respectively. The film is structured very oddly, reminiscent of both TRAFFIC and MEMENTO, in that it's cut into a large number of scenes, all of which are no longer than 1-2 minutes each, but each of which are shown to us in various chronological orders. It took me a while to get used to this sort of presentation, but I was never really confused or bored-in fact, the style stimulated me, and definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the characters, as parts of their individual lives were revealed to us, piece by piece. On top of the style, the film also featured three very well developed characters, each of whom had a history, issues and a distinct personality of their own, and each of whom had to deal with a number of revelations and events in their lives. I was taken by all three stories in the same manner, and especially liked how not one of them was predominantly featured more than the others. Eventually, the whole thing started to feel like a story that I was being told by a friend about a group of acquaintances. Bits and pieces were shared, grief faced, morals questioned, experiences witnessed and feelings communicated.

What it all added up to was a story that provided a behind-the-scenes view of several people dealing with the ills that life inevitably drops into our laps from time to time. How does one person deal with it versus another? Is there any right or wrong way to handle any given situation? Can you ever dismiss your past, or will it always be around the help/haunt you? What is love? Those questions and others involving destiny, fate, luck (both good and bad), redemption, courage, spirituality and human compassion are shared with you through this film, and it's really up to you to take what you want from it all. I certainly didn't bawl like I did in MY LIFE WITHOUT ME a few days earlier, but much like that film, this one re-affirmed one's need to appreciate life's delicate balance, while offering a ray of hope into our own lives, even during the most outwardly tragic circumstance, as well as the importance of love, direction and truth. Many times, the answer to our questions lies within ourselves but we're afraid to face them or our reality, choosing instead to drown ourselves in temporary states of relief like drugs, alcohol or superficial spirituality. This is a great film with superb performances that only helps elevate the material to that even mightier level. Benicio Del Toro is forgiven for his acting sprint through the generic THE HUNTED and back in top form as a man who can't seem to grasp the straight path to his own forgiveness and instead, drowns himself in spirituality. Del Toro's character is as tortured a man as I've seen in quite some time, and just can't seem to catch a break to save his life. Sean Penn is also very good, playing the character with the most physical affectations, having to deal with a crumpling body and on an emotional level, a relationship which doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But it's Naomi Watts who impressed me the most with an extremely brave showing as a woman dealing with one of the most devastating losses that could befall anyone, and doing so with a great deal of courage, depth and emotional resonance. If Ms. Watts doesn't receive an Oscar nomination for her role in this film, consider me to be a monkey's uncle.

In the end, all of the film's style and top-notch ensemble performances might not have been enough to dodge a tacky or pretentious script, but thankfully for us, we're not let down in that department either, with an authentic piece showcasing genuine human beings dealing with personal tragedies, as well as themes of redemption and hope. This is not a "happy go lucky" movie, folks...but for anyone who appreciates a film that delves deep inside the lives of characters to whom we can all relate on one level or another, and questions our own way of dealing with our own lives' most difficult of circumstances, consider this to be one of the best films that you will experience this year.
(c) 2015 Berge Garabedian
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