Just in time for Oscar consideration comes 21 GRAMS, the latest film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (AMORES PERROS). And while it boasts a talented cast and some interesting non-linear editing, the film implodes under the somber weight of its own pretentiousness.21 Grams is confusing at first by design, as we are introduced to its three primary characters - born-again ex-con Jack Jordan (Benecio Del Toro), ex-junkie Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) who has cleaned up for her husband and two daughters, and terminally ill mathematician Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), who is in desperate need of a heart transplant. The three characters are placed on a collision course when Cristina loses her family in a tragic hit-and-run accident Events are shown out of sequence as the film slowly reveals the connection between the three. It's an intriguing narrative at first, until the viewer is given enough information to finally piece all of the scenes together.
Unfortunately, once you've figured out where the narrative is at, you've also figured out where it's going. For the last half hour, 21 Grams chugs ponderously towards its conclusion. While the third act isn't exactly a bore, it's definitely a chore to get through (although there is a fantastic shot of Naomi Watt's breasts in there somewhere).
While the acting is some of the best we've seen from the three leads so far (and Melissa Leo also deserves a nod as Jack's longsuffering wife), it's not enough to save the film from its own methodical grimness. 21 Grams is a film that wants us to care so much about these characters, yet it inundates us with one lingering introspective moment after the next until we are rendered numb. Another problem is that the relationship between Watts and Penn's characters seems forced, as does her sudden 180 degree turn from resignation over the loss of her family to a sudden obsession with revenge. A number of scenes feel superfluous, serving to drive home points already grasped by the audience and pad out the struggling narrative.21 GRAMS bears a narrative style similar to Innaritu's first feature, AMORES PERROS. But while his approach to storytelling is more ambitious here, the end result fails to live up to the near-greatness of his freshman effort. It's a shame to see such promising peformances nullified by a script that ultimately goes nowhere.