"What am I doing in this pre-corpse club?" Paul (Sean Penn) thinks to
himself in voice-over. As he looks around his hospital room, his fellow
patients are all tubed up, wired up and looking over their shoulders for the
Grim Reaper's arrival.
Paul, a 41-year-old mathematics professor, and Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg),
who share a marriage on the rocks, are one of three sets of characters whose
lives come together tragically in 21 GRAMS, director Alejandro Gonz lez
I¤ rritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga's follow-up feature film to their
widely acclaimed -- but not by me -- AMORES PERROS. As he did in AMORES
PERROS, the director again rewinds and fast forwards the story every few
minutes so that you'll swear that the editor used a Mixmaster to assemble
the footage. The director also eschews any use of a stabilizing device for
his camcorder, giving his movie the ugly look of slightly shaky videotape.
In the press notes, he argues why he thinks this is a good idea.
Personally, I think most audiences prefer the steady and lush look of a
non-handle-held camera using traditional film stock over something
approximating your neighbor's home videos. But I digress.
Despite the picture's annoying and showy avant-garde techniques, the
wonderful acting manages to shine through and grab you. Penn, who acts
circles around Gainsbourg's typically lethargic work, has his acting match
in Naomi Watts (MULHOLLAND DR.) and Benicio Del Toro (TRAFFIC), who head up
the other two sets of characters.
Watts plays Christina, who years ago gave up her coke-snorting drug scene
for a life as a well-off suburban housewife and mother. After her husband
and young girls die in an accident, she returns to her old bad habits.
Rapidly sinking into a deep depression, she tells her father at her family's
funeral, "Life does not just go on!"
As a two-bit chronic criminal named Jack, Del Toro is a guy who wears his
religion on his arm and his truck. Jack's tattoos proudly proclaim "Jesus
Saves," as does the side of his big pickup. Most of the movie's characters
are alcohol abusers. Jack is that as well as a Christianity abuser. Using
as justification whatever phrase that comes to mind from the Bible, he
mistreats his kids and himself.
The superlative acting more than makes up for the film's flaws, which
include needless confusion and actions that frequently strain credulity.
Jack, Christina and Paul pull at our heartstrings, and we are most
definitely moved. Still, I'd love to see an anti-director's cut that didn't
try to be so artsy and that stuck to the storytelling.
21 GRAMS runs a little long at 2:05. It is rated R for "language,
sexuality, some violence and drug use" and would be acceptable for most
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes