Published Dec 01, 2003The first 20 minutes of 21 Grams is so disjunctive and anti-intuitive, I felt like I was being beaten into submission by a bratty director who just wanted to play God. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros) and his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have fashioned a self-consciously disjointed narrative about grief, death and guilt, and this film works hard to give us a profound experience. What we're left with is a film that's easy to admire but hard to love.
It's difficult to warm up to a film that starts out by showing contempt for its audience. Sean Penn plays a man saved by a heart transplant; Naomi Watts plays a woman who lost her husband and two daughters in a car accident; and Benicio Del Toro plays the man who inadvertently changed both of their lives and now carries the guilt like an iron cross (he's a misguided born again Christian). All three performers are great, and they act their pants off in portraying some truly emotionally raw scenes (Watts screams herself red in the face in a couple of scenes and you don't question her conviction for a second).
There's a great film rattling around here somewhere it's all about how we can die and be reborn as something else (it's a surprisingly hopeful film). Still, there's something false about the project as a whole. It's shot like a gritty crime thriller (grainy images, handheld cameras), and although it has a lot of emotional verisimilitude, the plot is basically the stuff of melodrama (transplant patient falls in love with the widow of the donor).
Inarittu himself doesn't seem to trust his own story. His fractured narrative structure is entirely based on either surprising or confusing his audience. The sad thing is, underneath all these formalistic distractions, I think he's really got something to say. (Alliance Atlantis)