21 Grams (2003)

IN SHORT:  WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE THIS MOVIE?  Overall this movie is good, but not amazing.  If you like Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, or Benicio Del Toro, and aren’t afraid of a movie that requires some thinking, then pick this up next time you go to Blockbuster.

Full Review:

Film in the United States has been dominated by
Hollywood for a very long time.  This is quite unfortunate, because most of the creativity and diversity that exists in foreign cinema usually fail to make it to the States.  One thing that most American movie goers don’t realize is that stories can be told in ways different than the typical linear plot so common in
Hollywood today, which flows smoothly from beginning, to middle, to climax, and to the end.  This is why it is obvious right at the beginning of 21 Grams that it is from a foreign director.

The movie focuses equally on three different characters, Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) a fatally ill college professor, Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) a young stay at home mom, and Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) a released convict who has converted to Christianity.  I don’t want to give away to many spoilers so all I can say is that after a tragic accident, these three people have their lives intertwined and they have to cope with issues like revenge, family, and death.

The director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel) utilizes a very creative way of storytelling, making 21 Grams feel like a mix of Memento (2001) and Crash (2004).  The structure of the film is that there is a complete story, but the audience is given random pieces of it from the beginning, middle, and end.  The biggest problem audiences will have with 21 Grams is that after the first 30 minutes, no one will have a clue what is going on.  But I urge everyone to stick through this, because as more and more pieces snap into place, the more compelling the movie becomes.

The other amazing thing besides the spontaneous storytelling is that the entire cast is absolutely phenomenal throughout the movie.  It is their performances that charms the audience to continue watching after the first 30 minutes since the plot is so incoherent at this point. 
Watts and Del Toro are particularly good and the Oscar nominations they received for these performances are definitely well deserved. 
Alejandro González Iñárritu succeeds in generating a dreary and suspenseful mood with the use of stormy scenery, independent style shots, and hardly any music, except for a soothing electric guitar over a few scenes.

With all of this creativity and artistic brilliance, it’s hard to figure out why this is only a good film, and not an amazing one.  Once the film was over, there was definitely a small feeling of disappointment because after finally piecing together the whole story, it’s not as amazing as I was hoping for.  It’s a pretty good story, but not great.  There is also a slight lack of character development, and almost nothing is revealed about any of the characters past, which makes the film not as impactful as it should.

Overall 21 Grams was a unique movie experience, and if you like films that break away from typical
Hollywood, then you will enjoy this.  Be warned, however, you will definitely be confused after the first 30 minutes, but do not give up on the movie.  Soon you will be drawn in and the suspense grows with every new piece of the story that is revealed.


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