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USA 2003
Directed by
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
124 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

21 Grams

Bringing people together via an accident is not new to director Iñárritu who used a similar idea in his first film. Amores Perros.(2000) which, like this film, was scripted by Guillermo Arriaga. Whilst the performances are powerful, with the three leads all having emotionally-devastating situations to deal with, the mechanics of interconnected lives this time feels a little forced, the film’s grainy de-saturated look and the achronological fractured approach to the narrative being in service of an all-out attempt to create a mood of spiritual alienation. The film’s title, which refers to the apparent but entirely apocryphal weight that everyone supposedly loses immediately after dying, is itself symptomatic of what feels like a too pointedly distaff agenda. Only in the film’s latter stage in which it approaches a more conventionally redemptive resolution does 21 Grams waver from its gloomy life-as-tragedy point of view.

Naomi Watts plays Cristina, a recovering drug addict who loses her husband and two young daughters in an car accident,  Academic Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) awaits a heart transplant while his wife, Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), hopes to conceive his child through artificial insemination. Reformed ex-con Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro) has become a born-again Christian and works with disaffected youth while struggling to provide for his family

Alcoholism, drug addiction, marital breakdown, guilt, death and more death are the order of the day and Watts and Penn go at these things with characteristic intensity. Del Toro, although his character is less articulate is equally intense and together with the support of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo as hapless wives, the three provide a compelling portrait of spiritual torment.

Arriaga's script is rewardingly dense with detail although one may question the decision to make Penn's character a mathematics professor. Not only bar a brief Pythagorean sentiment expressed to Cristina does this have no apparent reflection in Paul's worldview, it is irrelevant to the story  In addition Penn hardly suits the professorial type, a type which in particular one would not expect to have such remarkably good underworld connections.  

At times potent, at times moving, 21 Grams is likely to leave you winded.




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