21 Grams (2003)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Psychological Drama, Ensemble Film  |   Release Date - Nov 21, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 125 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Perry Seibert

Thanks to strong acting and a solid screenplay, 21 Grams is intellectually and emotionally compelling, even as the editing style hinders it from being as engaging as it could be. Guillermo Arriaga's script for Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams was written chronologically, but with the knowledge that the story line would be fractured in the editing room. There are no bad scenes in the film. The actors all bring a gravitas to the material that grounds the film in what feels like truth, if not necessarily reality. Benicio Del Toro uses his expressive physical presence to reveal his character's inner conflict, effectively communicating a variety of inner states with little more than his posture. While Naomi Watts' character suffers the most in the film, she expresses an inner strength even in her most defeated moments that keeps the character compelling. Although she endures the most horrible life events, she is the one that seems most able to survive. She never loses control, she simply is so worn down that she begins to make bad decisions. Sean Penn is saddled with the most difficult role of the three, as his character is little more than a plot device. His survivor's guilt drives the story forward, but there are so many other actions for which the man should feel guilty that the character loses a three-dimensionality that the other two possess. Despite its fractured narrative, 21 Grams is at heart an old-fashioned melodrama. By aggressively chopping up the order that the events in the film are presented to the audience, Iñárritu sacrifices letting the three main characters' emotional arcs affect the viewer. However, the style does succeed in keeping the audience in the moment of each of the scenes, something that might be difficult for an audience member if he or she were feeling overwhelmed by the many tragic events that precede any given scene. Iñárritu may enjoy telling a story in this way, but he does not allow his audience to feel the full weight of 21 Grams.