21 Grams is a compelling and dramatic thriller which follows the lives of three people thrown together by a traumatic accident. This is a fresh, clever film with excellent acting and distinctive direction. It challenges the audience and leaves you pondering the meaning of life and death; at the moment of death everyone loses 21 grams.
The film tells the tale of three very different people. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician with a bad heart awaiting a transplant, Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a housewife with a seemingly perfect suburban life and Jack Jordan (Benecio Del Toro) is a small time hood with a record who has just found God. They are brought together by a horrific accident and as their lives begin to intertwine they are set on a collision course which seems certain to end in more tragedy.
The film is played out in a non-linear fashion as we jump around in time in and out of the three character´s lives. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros) has a bold style and puts a lot of movement in each shot, he uses the shaky handheld feel to inject dynamism and some beautiful angles and close ups to capture the emotion of the characters. The resulting film is beautiful to watch and invokes a philosophical frame of mind.
As the film unfolds we learn that Paul is in a very unhealthy relationship which is on the verge of breakdown, held together only by his inability to look after himself in his weakened state as his heart is slowly failing. It transpires that Cristina has a shadowy past and she turns to drugs to try and cope with the trauma of the accident. Jack is similarly failing to deal with what has happened and seems utterly racked with guilt and self loathing.
The acting performances in this film are incredibly good. Sean Penn is a fantastic actor and plays his part with total conviction. Naomi Watts turns in a highly emotional performance as she takes us to the depths of despair so convincingly that you can almost feel her pain. Benecio Del Toro is also brilliant as the hapless Jack, a nasty character seeking redemption and struggling to deal with life in general. All three are very passionate in their roles and so the story really comes to life.
Another reason the emotions come through so strongly in this film is the close up direction and the lack of music. The actors are given a blank canvas to put across their emotions and their performances are amplified by the lack of competing sound and direction which makes you feel as though you are in the room with them.
Inarritu is a very talented director creating a good pace, getting the most from the acting performances and juggling complex and harrowing scenes together in a non-linear fashion which is both exhilarating and thought provoking.
21 Grams is a film of the highest quality in every regard but it is a harrowing film and not to be taken lightly. It´s definitely worth spending two hours on but you may find yourself wanting to watch something lightweight and comical afterwards to stave off those depressing thoughts of death.