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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.48%
Average: 26.57%
Pretty Bad: 10.49%
Total Crap: 4.2%

13 reviews, 65 user ratings

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21 Grams
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by Eugene Novikov

"It's like we're trying to put a bandaid on something that's been bled dry"
4 stars

According to Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu's sophomore feature, "21 Grams" is the amount of weight your body loses at the moment when you die. If this seems a trifle heavy-handed, that's because it is, an in the end there is the distinct feeling that Gonzalez Innaritu and his screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga forced the title to fit. This is nonetheless a strong, compelling, sometimes powerful film, and a very demanding one due to its intricately fractured chronology.

Different people have different attitudes toward movies that deliberately work to confuse you. In my humble opinion, bewilderment is a legitimate emotion a filmmaker can evoke. I paid close enough attention not to be confused any more than Gonzalez Innaritu wanted me to be, but if you have to leave for the bathroom, you may need a companion to help you piece it all together. The flashbacks and flash-forwards seem arbitrary, but they do add up to both a coherent story and a real emotional effect.

One wonders how the screenwriter must feel, however, knowing that Bonnie Hunt, Minnie Driver and David Duchovny beat him to his central gimmick with their trifling 2000 romantic comedy Return to Me. Ah, but no matter. Sean Penn, whose face has become synonymous for me with brooding, volatile depression, plays Paul, a math professor with congenital heart disease. Sometimes we see him lying in a hospital bed in grave condition, though we are not sure if this is before his scheduled heart transplant, after it, or following another tragic incident hinted at in some of the early scenes.

We also meet Jack (Benicio Del Toro), an ex-con who has turned to Jesus as a respite from the criminal world to which he has grown accustomed. Though this is seen mostly as a positive development by those around him, we sense that all is not right: when one of his young daughter playfully slaps his son at the dinner table, he orders the boy to hit her back as per the Bible's "eye for an eye" commandment. His wife stands by him, but she grows exasperated what what he is becoming.

Christina (Naomi Watts) loses her husband and two daughters in a tragic car accident; her last memory of them is her husband's phone call saying that they will be home soon. She replays the message over and over; she pushes away her similarly grieving sister (Clea DuVall) and father in an effort to come to terms on her own. Watch how, when Christina receives the news in the hospital, the camera lingers on DuVall, who bursts into tears a second after her sister collapses in their father's arms.

I mustn't say how these three sets of characters come together, though you may be able to guess it in part from the hint I dropped in an earlier paragraph. 21 Grams plays like a depressing jigsaw puzzle that is both painful and satisfying to assemble. It invites you to pat yourself on the back when you successfully put together the real chronology of the jumbled on-screen events. But it's more than that, too: the structure recalls Atom Egoyan's stunning temporal back-and-forth in The Sweet Hereafter, particularly in the gradual, ultimately heartbreaking revelation of the crucial car accident.

After a while, though, it all begins to seem like a bit of a put-on. There are a few too many morbidly beautiful developments, too many "appropriate" coincidences. The pervading feeling throughout the third act is that of an extremely clever screenwriter pulling strings behind the scenes. Which is, of course, exactly what is happening, but we're not supposed to that. This is compounded by the epilogue, which is awfully pretentious and damn near non-sensical.

I will say this: Naomi Watts deserves every bit of her newfound stardom. Stunningly beautiful and equally talented, she has not wasted her breakout performance in Mulholland Drive, choosing a smart combination of box-office winners and quality "arthouse" films. 21 Grams is a solid addition to her repertoire, as forceful and challenging as it is uneven.

(Review reprinted from

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originally posted: 03/04/07 22:38:19
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell bleak & potent 4 stars
2/05/17 Aidan Butler Sean Penn character destroys logic of movie 3 stars
1/02/13 Davie bummer. 2 stars
11/26/10 Sia Shar one of great movies of the 2003 and the decade 5 stars
7/20/08 Shaun Wallner This movie was Awesome!! Loved It. 5 stars
12/21/07 Wendell O. Maness I love blood, want to drink it, love this movie 5 stars
12/06/06 andrew worst movie ever. boring and sux 1 stars
11/24/06 Charlene Javier Loved it as well 4 stars
6/25/06 MP Bartley Superb acting, but jumbled narrative is all veneer and no surface. 4 stars
4/12/06 anthonyuk superb and again sean penn shows his class 5 stars
11/22/05 Taylor Fladgate 4 Stars - but be sure to be ready to be depressed. Whoa. 4 stars
9/20/05 Indrid Cold Great use of a fractured narrative to spice up an otherwise ho-hum story. 5 stars
8/19/05 ES Broken time lines inmovie generally mean the director wasn't sure how to film it 3 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands Plot order is as if PA dropped the script & had 2 shuffle it back together in a hurry. 4 stars
5/07/05 Vince Top notch cast and performances, editing seems random and as a result story is tedious 3 stars
4/09/05 K. Sear Nothing new but it delivers where other attempts fail. 4 stars
12/07/04 Orion Fascinating. More deeper that you think at first glance 5 stars
11/09/04 Matthew Wow..what an awesome movie! Naomi Watts rocks! 5 stars
9/03/04 Impey not too shaby 2 stars
8/28/04 capitalbliss Fantastic, I found the filming a little different but the movie is great!! 5 stars
8/12/04 kc finished the movie 3 stars
8/01/04 Brad Gripping, great performances. 5 stars
7/17/04 Jim & Deborah incredible movie/fabulous directing and acting / "outside the box" so to speak. 5 stars
5/26/04 michele excellent! Del Toro's acting is hypnotic 5 stars
5/23/04 Monster W. Kung Good acting, but plot is tedious and the absurdly bleak and fractured approach don't help. 3 stars
5/17/04 elizaveta a really great out-of-order film. Sean Penn rocks, as ever. 5 stars
5/13/04  Shaun Rose Excellent movie with agreat cast, I reccomend to anybody who hasn't seen it 4 stars
4/23/04 Alex A good movie about life 5 stars
4/20/04 Phil M. Aficiando Mind jumbling pysche beater; great acting helps a lot, but.... 3 stars
4/07/04 A F Tried to hard to mess with the sequence 3 stars
4/05/04 Charlene Javier Proves that Amores Perros is no fluke! 5 stars
4/04/04 Vince Chan Finally, a non-linear movie that actually makes you THINK! 5 stars
3/31/04 The More You Know Like a challenge? Watch it - but be prepared! Josh G's take on it is helpful. 4 stars
3/28/04 Frank Lynch 21 Grams is a pretentious bore. 2 stars
3/25/04 Shelley Shea Sean Penn can do no wrong. 5 stars
3/24/04 Margie LOVED IT, LOVED IT!!! Naomi should have won the best actress oscar!!(I question the end) 5 stars
3/21/04 othree loved it, sadly, raw reminder of human natures +cast 4 stars
3/17/04 Holly Beeman I almost feel like it would have been more powerful in sequence, but he's got the tech! 4 stars
3/11/04 Matt Good performances but the story was just too slight to merit the style. 3 stars
2/27/04 Reini Urban +story, + cast, -camera 4 stars
2/26/04 Troy Butler Extremely emotional, ... amazing performances all round!!! TOP NOTCH!! 5 stars
1/29/04 Rapunzel Gladstone Poorly told story that would far and away be none too compelling if told well. 2 stars
1/28/04 marzio a punch in your stomach! Great performances, especially Watts and Del Toro, and editing 4 stars
1/27/04 Chloe Brody Not Sean's finest performance, but really powerful. Naomi deserves the Oscar! 4 stars
1/25/04 Smitty The most beautifully acted lousy movie I've ever seen 2 stars
1/23/04 Betty White Heavy, dark drama with grand performances. 4 stars
1/22/04 HAL You must think to understand this film and our thoughts are not linear. Fine film. 5 stars
1/21/04 Chronology The movie was based intense emotions and ideas, but is ruined by mixed chronology! 4 stars
1/20/04 Cheerleader who ran out of TP& has to wipe her ass with her pompoms Falls apart at uh, ending, or rather would if it had an ending. 2 stars
1/19/04 Gretchen Seitz "---" sucks! Since when is "no taste" a burnable in hell offense. 2 stars
1/19/04 the Grinch Typical movie you'd expect Sean Penn to be in...good script, but In The Bedroom it AINT 2 stars
1/17/04 john wonderful, great acting, camera technique, fine editing, beautiful work 5 stars
1/17/04 john bale Brilliant yet difficult gritty drama about Fate, great actors, grungy sets and camerawork 4 stars
1/12/04 KCobain Awful and depressing. Walked out after 45 minutes. 1 stars
1/03/04 Admiral Piett Sean Penn sucks donkey dick. 1 stars
12/31/03 --- Anyone who doesnt like this movie has no taste and should burn in hell 5 stars
12/30/03 ownerofdajoint if you like deep overlapping plots then you'll think this is a great movie;which it is 5 stars
12/20/03 AXE k 1 stars
12/15/03 Slo. Zombie This review just SUCKS !!! 21 grams AND Mystic river are two masterpieces of modern cinema! 5 stars
12/03/03 re A GREAT FILM 5 stars
11/30/03 Todd Stein A great film, interesting study of humans 4 stars
11/30/03 ajay tried to be cool with Memento-editing but it was overdone, confusing and masked a bad story 2 stars
11/23/03 smartmusician GREAT!!! 5 stars
11/22/03 benice save your money, worst movie of the year. 1 stars
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  21-Nov-2003 (R)
  DVD: 03-Oct-2006



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