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This would be a fairly straightforward, though depressing, movie except for the fact that the scenes are shown in what appears to be random order. Think of Memento, if instead of being run backwards, the scenes were shown in no temporal sequence. The plot of 21 Grams combines two well-worn movie themes. The first is how one incident can change and bring together people who were previously unknown to each other. The second plot device is a heart transplant. In the recent film, Blood Work, Clint Eastwood receives a heart transplant from a murdered woman and eventually falls in love with her sister. In Return to Me, Minnie Driver receives the heart of a woman who died in an accident and then falls in love with the woman's husband (David Duchovny). In 21 Grams, Sean Penn receives the heart of a man, killed in an accident along with his two young children. Penn is breaking up with his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and becomes obsessed with finding out where his heart came from. Then, he becomes obsessed with the wife (Naomi Watts) of the man whose heart he received. The dead man and his kids where killed in a hit and run accident. The driver of the vehicle (Benicio Del Toro), has been in and out of jail and has neglected his wife (Melissa Leo) and kids, but was just starting to get his life in order when the accident happened. And so, the stage is set for the three strangers, Penn, Watts and Del Toro to be drawn together into a death spiral that they can't escape from.
As I said, 21 Grams would be fairly straightforward movie except for the fact that the scenes are shown out of order. You have to keep your wits about you, especially at the beginning when you don't know who any of the characters are. After a half hour or so, it begins to make sense and you can follow the flow of the story but you still have to pay attention to the little details in order to figure out where each scene fits into the story. I have tried to discern whether there is some meaning or pattern to the order of the scenes. It seems random at first, but they are ordered in such as way that you can follow the development of the story. Interspersed with the flashbacks and flashforwards, there are a series of scenes that are in order and advance the story. The jumping around certainly strengthens the viewer's feeling that the major characters are lost and disoriented by the horrific events swirling around them. This is the second film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu after Amores Perros (nominated for Best Foreign Film). Amores Perros had a similar plot to 21 Grams involving a traffic accident that draws the characters together. This new film is directed in a very gritty style. The action is gripping as the characters, like runaway trains, move toward the inevitable crash.
The acting in 21 Grams is very strong.
This is yet another sad depressing movie for Penn and Watts, who seem to specializing
in such movies. Penn is just coming off a similarly agonizing role in
Mystic River. Watts was seriously
depressed and mental in Mulholland
Drive, and depressed again in Le
Divorce. They are both great in 21 Grams as is Del Toro.
He, like Watts, has been around for a long time but only got noticed recently
for his work in Traffic, for
which he won Best Supporting Actor. You might remember his goofy mumbling
character as one of The Usual
Suspects. It took an off the wall performance by Watts in Mulholland
Drive to get her known for anything other than being Nicole Kidman's best
friend. Penn has been and continues to be acknowledged as one of the best,
and he doesn't disappoint here. The supporting roles are well done too,
especially Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the long suffering wives
of Del Toro and Penn, respectively. Gainsbourg is excellent. I have never
seen her before. She is English but has only done French movies up to
now. It was great to see Leo again. She appeared for many years on Homicide:
Life on the Street. I still miss that show. The only knock
I have against 21 Grams is that it's so depressing. The title
of the movie refers to the amount by which, supposedly, a body is lightened
when a person dies. The characters in this movie seem to weighed down
by a lot more than that. I could feel myself being dragged down in the
death spiral with the characters. This movie supposed to be about redemption
but there is precious little of that. So, take your Prozac before going
to see 21 Grams. It's worth it.