21 Grams (****1/2)

(2003) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu – Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melissa Leo et al.

benecio del toro et al.Synopsis: 21 Grams is a story of guilt and suffering, pain and redemption, etc.; it’s a story of three people and their families, and how their lives become hopelessly entangled. I won’t say any more; it’s difficult to say much about the plot without giving away too much, since the movie’s set up in a nonlinear fashion.

Review: I’m a big fan of nonlinearity. In ’21 Grams’, it’s not an absolutely necessary device (as in, e.g., Memento), but it’s put to good use nonetheless. It helps mold an already-interesting story into something more, infusing mystery into scenes that would be otherwise straightforward, and redirecting suspense—telling you the outcome and letting you wonder how they get there. Which, admittedly, can sound a little lame, but in the case of ’21 Grams’ isn’t. Having a vague but fairly straightforward idea of how the movie will end early on doesn’t help, because very little of what you see makes sense in relation to how you know the timeline starts out. It’s almost (though not quite) like watching two different movies with the same cast spliced randomly together. But, as they say, that’s not all. Performances are outstanding all around. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive [••••½], The Ring) does very well in vastly different scenes; Sean Penn and Benecio Del Toro both do great jobs in the strange roles into which they’re thrown (or ‘cast,’ if you prefer). I could have gone without Paul Rivers (Penn) reciting South American poetry to Cristina (Watts), but the quip about kidney damage probably offsets it, so no harm, no foul. Although pinpointing any particular actor is probably unfair because, as I said, performances are outstanding all around. Nor do I mean, the ‘main’ performances—all the actors, from Denis O’Hare as Dr. Rothberg to Antef A. Harris as ‘Basketball Guy’ to Lew Temple as the County Sheriff, do exceptionally well in their roles. The team of Iñárritu (directing), Arriaga (writing), and Santaolalla (composing) did quite well on ‘Amores Perros’ [••••], and did even better on ’21 Grams.’ I’m eager to see what they do next.

natalie watts

Rating: [••••½] out of [•••••]