on 26 April 2012
This movie is intentionally misleading. It has a deliberately disjointed frame of reference and is shot non-sequentially.
The viewer is immediately captivated by the game of guessing just how and why the three main characters are connected to each other.
Each character is living a fairly normal, domesticated life which is intertwined with a much darker, chaotic sub-plot.
Super strong acting from some heavy weight leads, some clever twists and turns and perfect for those who do not like everyting handed to them on a plate.
Not many films can take a gritty subject, tell it in a series of harsh flashbacks, film it with a bleak landscape and make it work. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu accomplishes this great task with the help of immensely talented actors like Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro. Del Toro is frightening as the hard edged born-again Christian who accidentally commits the worst of crimes. Watts is heartbreaking as the victim who buries her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Penn excels in subtly as the man who receives Watts deceased husbands heart and falls in love with her. It's almost too much emotion to take in at once. All three actors are at their peak and Inarritu plays them off eachother without pretense or falsehood. Each character is decisively different yet all have one horrible thing in common. Inarritu tells this tale in an original, highly edited manner with flashbacks and foreshadowing that never confuses. The film is actually amazingly interesting in its ability to keep scenes tight and emotions as raw as possible. It is a rare achievement and this film would have received more accolades if the material were simply more upbeat. That's a tragedy in itself.
on 16 April 2006
Based on a strikingly similar premise to Iñárritu's first film "Amores Perros", 21 Grams follows three characters whose lives are bound together by a fatal car crash in which a man and his two young daughters are killed. The three characters the film focuses on are the wife and mother of those killed (Naomi Watts), the ex-convict and born-again Christian who caused the accident (Benicio del Toro) and the man whose life was saved when he received a transplant of the heart of the man who was killed (Sean Penn). The first of this film's main virtues are precisely these actors, all of whom are amongst the most gifted and brilliant actors currently working in Hollywood - 21 Grams is a masterclass in acting. The second of its main virtues is that it is also a masterclass in direction. The story is not told chronologically, but follows what Iñárritu describes as the "emotional logic" of the story. We cut between the three main characters and jump back and forth in time, gradually piecing together both what has happened and how the three, initially totally separate-seeming, strands of the plot are connected. This technique, though bold, is not all that unusual in itself, but what is unusual is the way that Iñárritu makes it work so brilliantly - he keeps you guessing and involved, but never confuses you. This is a genuinely outstanding film.
Carrying the poisoned cargo of a screwed-up past coupled to a temptation-filled present - ex convict Jack Jordan is a train wreck just waiting to derail - yet again. At least at the hands of Preacher John (the ever stunning Eddie Marsan) Jack has discovered God and this has given him strength ("Jesus gave me that truck..."). But Jack still seems to be heading for that mental meltdown no matter how hard he believes and the inevitable loss of his freedom, his job and his family.
Mexican Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had made the brilliant "Amores Perros" in 2000 and it went a long way to drawing in huge talent like Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and especially Benicio Del Toro (as Jack Jordan). Not conventionally structured - 2004's "21 Grams" uses the device of back and forward in time flashbacks to offer up a story of accidents and loss and extreme pain and how ordinary people cope with it (or not as the case may be).
The structure is odd and at times grating - but it brilliantly unfolds the story so you slowly twig what's happened and to whom. One minute Jack Jordan is clean-shaven happily waving to his friends by his pick-up - the next he's in a prison shower again with a towel around his neck (and he isn't trying to clear up his zits). Sean Penn's character Paul River's is wheezing on a ventilator while he sneaks a cigarette from a pill bottle stash in the bathroom in one scene - then is healthy and immaculately suited in the next scene as he ogles a woman in a swimming pool (Naomi Watts) he seems overly interested in for a married man. One moment he's raising a glass of wine with his friends celebrating an organ transplant that has literally saved his life - the next Paul is lying in a hospital bed looking battered with tubes in his mouth - ruminating on the size of the bodyweight you lose when you die (the film's title).
In between all of this we keep returning to a father (a brilliantly subtle Danny Huston) on his mobile to his wife. He is clearly not paying enough attention to his two young daughters giddily chasing a bird on the footpath ahead of him. As the three pass out of shot - leaves are blown ahead as a familiar-looking truck races past - and a few moments later (still out of shot) there's an ominous screech of tyres...
While Sean Penn is typically magnetic - the movie belongs to Benicio Del Toro who straddles it like a malevolent colossus. In the 'Making Of' the Director says you need only point the camera at him and magic will happen - worlds going on behind a glance. Yet somehow (and there are repulsive scenes with his family) Del Toro fills his tattooed enraged Jordan with such gravitas that you empathise with his gradual loss of faith rather than judge him. In one scene he begs a startled man to kill him - end his torment - and you don't for a second think that he doesn't really mean it.
But special praise should also go to the women who are simply astounding and in some cases act the showier male names off the frame. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Sean Penn's wife Mary Rivers obsessed with having a child even if their relationship is disintegrating - while Melissa Leo plays the wife of the God-obsessed Jack Gordon trying to keep him out of jail and her family together (both are simply superb). But it's Naomi Watts who blows you away. There is a scene where she has to go the hospital to check on her husband and two daughters only to be given unfathomable news. As a parent you physically shake and ache with her harrowing disintegration (she's that good). The only other times I've ever seen this sheer acting power is in "Bright Star" about the life of poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne that has Abbie Cornish give the same kind of mind-blowing performance (see review) and Marion Cotillard's unbelievable performance in the Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie En Rose".
With a 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio (the full screen is filled) 'adequate' best describes the BLU RAY picture quality. It isn't great by any stretch of the imagination featuring many indoor and night scenes with an ever-present pallor of grain. Shooting was all about feel and immediacy - and prettily framed suburbia was never going to be part of the equation. But I'd still say that the power of the watch quickly dissipates any qualms on that front. The only subtitle is English for the Hard Of Hearing.
There's also a great "In Fragments" Making Of where the Director gets all the cast and crew to throw red roses in the air at the start of shooting and white roses when they finish. Each of the principal actors get spots and they're praise and love of the work is palatable. Icing on the cake is Gustavo Santaoialla's stunning score of electric and acoustic heavy guitar strums (like a Mexican Ry Cooder). Gustavo also embellished "Babel" and "The Motorcycle Diaries" with the same emotion-tugging power.
Nominated for 2 Oscars and 5 Baftas - "21 Grams" is visceral cinema peopled with a plethora of actors giving 1000% to a script they know is hard-hitting yet somehow real world redemptive. Inarritu would go on to make the equally brilliant "Babel" and the seriously harsh "Biutiful".
In 2014 you can pick up the stunning "21 Grams" for five quid on BLU RAY - and that's a skydiver well spent in my book...
on 8 July 2004
A film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
This is a difficult film to review because it is not a conventional film by any means. There are fantastic acting performances, and layers of detail, but the structure of the film is what presents the challenge. "Memento" was a movie that had a story that was told out of sequence, but the way "Memento" was edited worked perfectly because there was a definite method and clear purpose that fit the story being told (the story was told in reverse order). Unlike "Memento", I was not able to figure why the scenes in "21 Grams" were out of chronological order. This is a powerful film, but it might also be needlessly complex (complexity for complexity's sake).
Here's what we know about the movie (though exactly when we get everything fitted together is a little unclear). Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is dying. He needs a heart transplant rather badly. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con trying to turn his life around. He has become a Christian, but still struggles with his anger. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) has lost both her husband and her two children in an auto accident. These three separate lives will start to intertwine as the movie progresses, but to give more than a simple description of who each of these characters are will be to spoil how they interact and why, and what happens to them. The disjointed chronology of the film makes describing it even more difficult because scenes from the beginning of the film only make sense when connected to a scene more than an hour later.
In one sense, watching this film is an exercise in understanding. We see the film play out and we are (or at least I was) working to figure out how everything fits together both as a part of the story as well as to the greater theme of the movie. The movie is titled "21 Grams". It is said that the weight of a human soul is 21 grams because that is, supposedly, how much weight a body loses when a person dies. The film, in my view, is trying to measure a human life, to see what it means to be human, especially in the face of death. On one hand, the film succeeds. On the other, human life and experience is so varied that what may be meaningful for one viewer may be less so for another. I thought this was a powerful, well acted film, but the out of order format of the film was a little distracting. I'm not sure about the purpose of setting up the movie with the mixed up chronology. This is a good one, even a very good movie. The acting is great, but I'm not sure if the movie is.
on 29 June 2004
Amores Perros, the debut feature by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, brought him international arthouse acclaim and surfed the crest of a wave of interest in the new Mexican and South American cinema. After months of hype and interviews his follow up, 21 Grams, will bring his distinctive style and world-view to an even wider audience. This is his first English language feature and, with the draw of heavyweight Hollywood players Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, and the ascendant star of Naomi Watts, it will surely show him to be one of the most accessible serious filmmakers today. Paul (Sean Penn) is a maths professor in need of a heart transplant and is the film's pivotal player. After receiving a new heart in the nick of time he becomes obsessed over the fate of the donor and tracks down the grieving Christina (Watts). As the bond grows between them, they decide to track down Michael (Benicio Del Toro), the ex-con whose born-again Christian faith leads him to turn himself in after he kills Cristina's husband and children in a hit-and-run incident.
Much has been made of the narrative structure, a fragmented, non-linear retelling of the above events and their consequences. Certainly it pushes the technique further than most, and it is the film's major coup-de-grâce, involving the viewer in its characters' tragedy while eschewing filmic conventions of stitching together of time and space. Some of the editing is truly breathtaking; scenes cut associatively rather than linearly, along emotional or visual lines, the camera following the flow of characters' movements, or even objects, backwards and forwards in the narrative from one glass to a different one, from one set of cutlery to another. As such it betrays an intelligence shaping the film that is more concentrated on the most minute details than the major action - mirroring Del Toro's sentiment expressed twice in the film to radically different effect: "God even knows when a single hair moves on your head." The director, as God, here, moves in mysterious ways and in doings so reveals an allegiance to a higher order, though this detachment from the heartbreak on display sometimes runs the risk of emotionally alienating the spectator.
Like Amores Perros the film spins around the vortex of a fatal event, a car crash, that traumatically binds all the main protagonists together. But whereas in Amores Perros, the crash was visceral and literally bone-shattering, in 21 Grams it is never shown to the spectator, circled in on from different angles yet remaining in the off-screen space of the unrepresentable tragedy, more black hole than blinding light. Initially disorientating, it never becomes incoherent, and with even a rudimentary idea of the plot (as recounted in all the publicity and numerous reviews, the present included), there are no problems with comprehension; structurally reminiscent of other films such as Michael Haneke's Code Inconnu and, less precisely, Pulp Fiction, it is perhaps an example of how mainstream cinema can now incorporate sophisticated formal and stylistic experimentation.
The director draws excellent performances from all three leads, as well as from a supporting cast that includes Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo, but it is Del Toro who is the most devastating, as the tortured believer who cannot accept his position in a drama that grapples existentially with faith, destiny and love. The film lacks the emotional rhythm and range of Amores Perros, and sustains an intensity of feeling that at times seems overwrought and heavy-handed, but in the closing scenes, with Sean Penn's final act, it acquires a poignancy and compassion that is ultimately redemptive and, despite its gloomy outlook, displays an optimism about humanity and the power of love that was lacking in its predecessor. Shot in Iñárritu's trademark bleached and grainy style (with his regulars, Director of Photography Rodrigo Prieto and Production Designer Brigitte Broch), and with an atmospheric soundtrack, 21 Grams resembles nothing else you will see this year, either aesthetically or in terms of raw impact.
on 4 September 2015
This film gets a mix or ratings and for good reason, but honestly 5 stars is way out.
The acting is impressive, hence why I haven't given it 1 star, but other than that it's pretty poor.
It's a dark and depressing look at life without any hints of hope, fortunately life is not like that.
The jumbled-up time frame didn't bother me but I have seen it done much better in other films, but the ultimate fault with this film is lack of light and shade. It doesn't really have a begining, middle and end, it just plods steadily on giving you neither massive highs or lows. If you were to edit it into the correct timeline it would be incredibly boring, certainly not the two hours it takes to tell what little story there is.
it's a real shame as there are some great actors that deserve better. Oh and 21 grams... What a tenuous title.
on 8 December 2015
A film that could only exist if a genius like Inarritu associates himself with a production and cast of absolute genious'.A film that needs to be watched more than once to fully appreciate how good it is, it is difficult to rip your eyes away from the screen, with such an unorthodox yet intriguingly poetic style and with some of the most intense acting I've ever witnessed.The cast is so believable it could be a documentary if it wasn't for the stunning direction and editing ,which could be argued, is such a mismatch to the non linear style. It really feels like it shouldn't work (the first time I watched it I hated it) it felt unnecessarily complicated but with every viewing after that I realised that a linear story would of made this just another film but because of the style it holds you to the story. There really is nothing bad to say about it, it's a film that true film lovers should watch because as confusing as it is, whilst watching it, it all makes perfect sense in the end, after the second or third viewing. If you enjoy pretty colours and loud explosions like every Micheal Bay film ever made then don't watch it because it will make your head hurt.