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21 Grams

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: 21 Grams

Starring: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: November 2003
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, Clea Duvall, Marc Musso, David Chattam, Teresa Delgado, Stephen Bridgewater, Kevin Chapman, Carlo Alban



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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"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 teenagers.

Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes

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