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21 Grams
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239 out of 256 people found the following review useful:

First engrossing, then moving

9/10
Author: kylopod (kylopod@aol.com) from Baltimore, MD
5 November 2005

Many movies in the modern era have experimented with fractured chronology, but most of the time this technique is used for entertainment purposes only. "21 Grams" is an intense and thoughtful film enriched by this technique, taken to an extreme I've never seen before. We're not talking "Pulp Fiction" here, where a small series of vignettes are arranged out of sequence. Every individual scene in "21 Grams" seems to be distributed almost at random anywhere in the film. You have to concentrate when seeing this film for the first time, because you'll have trouble figuring out what's going on, and even as a plot starts to emerge, some of the details won't be understandable until the very end. But it pays off: this isn't like "Memento" or "Mulholland Drive," where you may need multiple viewings to understand it all. By the end of this film, the story turns out to be quite straightforward. It's like seeing a gigantic jigsaw puzzle gradually pieced together.

Unlike many other films that use this sort of device, "21 Grams" is a character drama, not a psychological thriller. The story would still work if it were told in chronological order. Why the scenes are arranged as they are is not altogether clear, on the surface. I felt like I was watching a mystery, but after everything came together it became evident that none of the mystery was contained in the plot itself. This fact has led some critics to suggest that the scrambled scene arrangement is nothing more than a cute gimmick designed to make the film more engaging. But I believe that the device does serve a legitimate purpose, by drawing out the complexity of the characters and their situations.

Life is not good for the three principal characters, and it isn't getting better. Sean Penn plays a 40-something man with a failing heart, Naomi Watts plays a young woman facing great tragedy, and Benicio Del Toro plays an ex-con consumed by guilt. Penn and Watts come off as ordinary individuals reacting as anyone might under the circumstances, but Del Toro's character is particularly fascinating. He's been rehabilitated through religion, but he's still far from perfect. As a father, he has a scary presence that makes him seem borderline abusive at times. But he has developed a powerful conscience. Is he right to hate himself for what he did? The movie never answers that question. I just appreciated that the film resisted the temptation to make him into a caricature. He is neither hero nor villain. He is simply understandable on a very basic human level, as are the other two characters.

We have the feeling that Watts and Penn are wrong to condemn him as strongly as they do. They do not understand his situation, or that he's suffering just about as much as they are. On the other hand, we as viewers can perfectly understand where Watts is coming from. That's what makes the scrambled scene arrangement so effective: it never allows any one character to gain our total sympathy. By the time we've sorted out the plot threads, we've identified with all three characters on an emotional level while at the same time understanding their faults. These people are trapped in their own limited worlds, and with our omniscient viewpoint we can scarcely blame any one of them for their feelings or actions. We can see clearly what these characters cannot, which is that they are more victims of cruel fate than people who are truly guilty of anything.

What is the movie's message? That people shouldn't be so quick to judge others? That could be one interpretation, but what's nice about the film is that it doesn't hammer this lesson into us. It just tells a moving and stirring tale about complex characters, and viewers can take from it what they please. The title refers to a parapsychological belief about the weight of the human soul, and it's used in this film as a metaphor for the fragility of life. If life is fragile, then it's also precious, and people need not waste their time on vengeance.

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228 out of 292 people found the following review useful:

Esotercat's Riveting Review of "21 Grams"

Author: Kay (esotercat@cs.com) from Dallas, Texas
30 November 2003



Some movies are like a novel. Some movies are like a poem. Some films have flashbacks and flash-forwards. Some, like `Memento,' stretch the boundaries of convention and take wild risks such as moving the drama from the end to the beginning. `21Grams' is a cinematic poetic explosion, shaking all the pieces hard as hell, and then tossing them in the air to fall at random. Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, he gives the audience the puzzle unraveled, demanding that we piece together the story from interlaced past, present and future events. It is part flashy gimmick, part artistic mastery, but always compelling.

This is not a film for either the faint of heart or lazy of mind. Nor is it for those who become frustrated by film that dares to step outside the linear plot and paint-by-numbers formula. The mishmash of past/present/future is allegorical in the sense that we all carry our past, all hinge our hearts on the future, and all struggle with a `present' as dotty and haunted as this film so wildly illustrates.

In `21 Grams' it is required that the viewer surrender. As in life, there is no control. I must admit that I became a bit antsy and pressed for answers when none were being provided. You are riveted by events and players that intermingle in a haphazard mishmash of time with a rebellious lack of structure. You can either go with the flow-or back out to your car. Since I saw only one person exit the theater, for any reason, in the 125 minutes running time, I conclude that the fully occupied theater was as riveted as I was, even to the point of extreme bladder control.

The performances are stunning. Sean Penn is always good, Benicio Del Toro solidifies his Oscar, and Naomi Watts is the big talent to watch. Her emotional honesty is beyond acting-I believed her to feel the pain she displayed.

The `plot' almost seems inconsequential. The film is about the depth of human feeling in our brief interplay between living and dying. It's about damnation and redemption, revenge and forgiveness, surrender and salvation. It offers no explanations. It merely illustrates the human experience in a trenchant manner that makes us aware that every minute of every day is a precarious drama that we look upon more lightly than we should. The dramatic cortex is the human heart-lost, gained, tormented, anguished and confused. The metaphorical context is the fleeting nature of each heart's temporal beat and our desperately valiant struggle to flesh out our mortal hearts' desires.

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209 out of 261 people found the following review useful:

Putting the Pieces Together

9/10
Author: thegouch23 from Providence, RI
4 November 2004

A movie directed in inimitable style, Inarritu's 21 Grams is a provocative, deeply moving filmic work that explores several fundamental questions: What is a life, what is its value, and can we place a value on it? Directed in a series of small, seemingly disconnected fragments that come together as the film progresses, the film is thus shot in a style deeply unfamiliar to American moviegoers. At the beginning, most American viewers will find the choppy, nonlinear timeline distracting and frustrating - a cinematic form of coitus interruptus where once on the verge of revealing an underlying plot concept, the fragment abruptly stops and is picked up at an unrelated point. This style continues throughout, but don't worry. The answers do come after a while.

It is worth noting that the actual storyline, when told linearly, is not as gripping as when told in this style. The linear form would resemble a typical mindless story of the wounded seeking revenge. The way Inarritu constructs the story allows him to give the viewer a sense of where various characters are at the same time without the appearance of repetition. It allows moviegoers to see actual events first, then form associations later. There is a sense of, "Oh, now I get it!" that would be conspicuously absent if 21 Grams were told linearly.

Moving on, the performances of the actors and actresses in the film are incredible. All are believable. The animalistic hatred of Christina Peck (Naomi Watts) for Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), the deeply troubled father who regrets his big mistake and has become a born again Christian, is palpable throughout. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is genuine in his efforts to repay, literally, a life debt. The performances breathe further life into the series of events that 21 Grams attempts to chronicle.

By the film's ending, the entire tale of what has transpired is revealed to the viewer. Since key plot elements often appear in several of the disconnected sequences, they come to be points of reference that astute moviegoers can use to sort the rest of the plot. By the end, everything is complete. The title is finally put into context, and the attempt to answer the three previously mentioned fundamental questions is made. Yes, at the beginning, this movie may not seem to make much sense, and it may even be frustrating to watch. Still, resist the temptation to get up and leave the theater. Stick around and watch the whole thing. The pieces do ultimately fall into place. I promise. And besides, there's only one way to find out.

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157 out of 198 people found the following review useful:

Extremely good, extremely powerful

10/10
Author: Collaroy-Beach from Germany
21 March 2004

I'm actually the opposite of a drama fan- but this movie really touched me, and although it's quite tough to take in, I loved it.

I think above all, one has to bow to Guillermo Arriaga, the writer, as "21 Grams" features probably the best script I've ever seen. I guess the story itself is not that new, but the way how it's done is simply excellent. The first, say, 30 minutes are just scraps- moments in the lives of the three main characters that mean absolutely nothing to the viewer (yet). Adding to that initial confusion is the fact that these scraps are not in temporal order so that in the beginning personally I wasn't sure I'd be able to follow- it was more like a music video that's just not making any sense at all. But then the pieces begin to come together just beautifully until in the end you can see the whole picture. Usually in these episode movies everything comes together at once somewhere in the middle of the film, but in "21 Grams" the viewer puts the pieces together one after another- like a jigsaw puzzle, and every bit as satisfying when everything's completed. This truly is a masterpiece script-wise, and I've never seen anything like it.

That brilliant script is supported by excellent actors. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro are delivering the most convincing acting performance I've ever witnessed. Like when Christina (Watts) screams at Paul (Penn) trying to get rid of all of her anger, frustration, grief and hate: I usually think these emotional outbursts don't seem real on screen, but in this movie it is just deeply touching. I haven't seen "Mystic River" yet, but if Sean Penn was as good as he is in "21 Grams" then the Oscar finally really went to someone who truly deserved it. And Benicio del Toro really is every inch the wonderful actor his reputation claims (I saw him for the first time but had heard a lot of him before, so I was very curious).

Finally, thank you, Mr. Inárritu for putting everything together this nicely. You've made a very impressing 100 % quality movie.

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89 out of 116 people found the following review useful:

A Small Taste of Tragedy and Beauty

9/10
Author: Jeff (HardKnockLife210@aol.com) from Rock Hill, South Carolina
20 December 2004

When lives collide, often no one is around to witness the effects of the collision. Alejandro González Iñárritu, however, has captured the profound effects in 21 Grams. How much does life weigh? Iñárritu may not answer that question directly, but he does indirectly answer the question darkly and beautifully in 21 Grams.

21 Grams tells the story of three lives brought together by tragedy: the life of a very sick man (Penn), a mother who has lost much (Watts), and a Christian who has recently reformed his ways (Del Toro). Really, these characters and their once-"simple" lives are the focus of this film, and all three characters are mysterious and deep. Each of the three actors gives an excellent performance, but it is Watts who stands out in all her angst. All of them deserved Academy Award nominations, and Penn would've received one along with Watts and Del Toro if not for his incredible performance in Mystic River.

Arriaga's screenplay is incredible too, leaving the outcome inexplicable enough to be real and to make sense. Santaolalla's score is odd enough to fit the dark atmosphere that pervades the film, and stick around for the credits to hear Dave Matthews' fitting conclusion. Also, Prieto's and Procopio's cinematography is gritty enough to depict the unbearable anguish of the characters.

I would praise the direction as well, except that I do have one complaint regarding it. It is often so choppy and irregular that it causes the story to lose a tiny bit of its impact. Perhaps this choppiness fits the film too, but to me it was distracting.

Yet you should definitely check this one out for a sorrowful picture of torment, disgust, and a strange beauty.

Final Grade: A.

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71 out of 104 people found the following review useful:

Absorbing and powerful direction & acting; the story structure was less than great

8/10
Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
3 January 2004

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu made a well-deserved leap into the renown film-making pool with Amores Perros, and his follow up 21 Grams shows him with plenty of talent to spare. He also gets three (or more, depends on how effective one thinks the supporting performance were) forceful, compelling performances out of Sean Penn, Benicio Del-Torro, and Naomi Watts. They're involved in three interlocking stories- Penn as a mathematician with a rottening health and a near-rottening relationship; Del-Torro's found Jesus Christ after being in and out of jail for part of his life; Watts is a house-wife who may have some deep troubles within her mind. Each of the three leads doesn't go for cheap drama, and each one plunges the depths of their own abilities to find truths that might not be possible with lesser material or a lesser director. I won't say much more about the stories, however I do have something to say about the structure of the film. The script brings some mesmerizing scenes, ones with great tragedy that bring out a viewer's compassion.

Never-the-less, there was something about the structure that I didn't think was all that great. In films like Once Upon a Time in America, Reservoir Dogs, and even Memento, the scrambled story structure had a purpose, adding appropriate twists and turns for the audience. 21 Grams (like Amores Perros in a sense) has that non-linear basis to it too, and sometimes it works for the audience to react. But I think there would be a lot more power to how these characters' fates and tragedies unfold if it was told linearly from start to finish. In many moments in the film I found myself knowing a little too much before a particular scene unfolded, or I found myself guessing about something that I didn't need to (one of the points of non-linear storytelling is answers first, questions later). It wasn't an aspect that made the film bad, yet the stock that writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Inarritu put into this structure over interlocking the stories in order, or perhaps telling each story separately, is the film's only drawback.

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64 out of 92 people found the following review useful:

Iñárritu delivers a film that may well live up to its hype and then some.

Author: Austin2LA from Los Angeles
19 January 2004

21 Grams features performances by Sean Penn, Benecio Del Torro and Naomi Watts that are remarkable not only for their believability, but also for the range of gut wrenching emotion they bring to bear. Telling his story almost violently out of sequence, Iñárritu makes no apology for presenting information in a manner that is often abrupt and/or confusing. His choice to juxtapose a myriad of images to reveal the complexities and subtleties of the characters challenges the viewer even as it elevates the story.

Each of the three main characters faces a series of crises that unfold in the fullness of Iñárritu's version of time. By so carefully painting characters' surroundings along with their reactions to the events that change their lives, lead characters are stripped to the bone. The supporting cast is nothing short of miraculous (notably Clea Duvall, Charlotte Gainsborg and Melissa Leo) and completes a wonderfully complex series of portraits of the three main characters.

Like few films in recent memory, 21 Grams fully reveals what it is to be human in the clutches of life's most challenging moments.

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93 out of 162 people found the following review useful:

One step short of movie heaven

9/10
Author: pivko from Prague, Czech Republic
4 July 2004

This movie is very, very good. Unlike some others I do not think the unchronological storytelling hurts the movie, on the contrary I think that the pieces that the viewer has to put together in order to get the picture of the whole story just make it more interesting.

On the other hand, no matter how good the movie actually is it is one step short of masterpiece. It is like you are climbing to heaven but you cannot make it over the last step. The story is good, the filming is good, the acting is good, but there is still SOMETHING missing for this movie to be added to my hall of all time faves. Maybe it is the music, this film does not have a strong score, maybe all the components do not add up well together... It is hard to describe why, but I was not as stunned as I usually am after watching movies I rate at 10.

Thus, I was deciding between 8 a 9, finally I voted 9 but it is a rather weak one.

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65 out of 107 people found the following review useful:

An intelligent, sensitive and human portray of fatality

10/10
Author: SAY sí (SAYSI) from Toronto, Canada
26 June 2004

Alejandro Gonzalez Irritu, becomes with " 21Grams" a master craftsman that can push psychological boundaries and proves that to understand the Americans, you don't have to be one. And very often foreign directors that tackle American psyche do so in an intelligent and often very accurate and sensible way. Even though this film could have had characters from any country. Of course this is the case with the director of this brilliant film. I had to see it twice under very different circumstances and both times i left with a profound satisfaction of watching a great film. The work of Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro , Naomi Watts and Charlotte Gainsbourg is superb. Overall for me, the best film of 2003

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16 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

From the Director of Amores Perros

8/10
Author: nycritic
10 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An unlikely freak accident progressively brings three people together to a gripping yet tragic conclusion.

Using a non-linear exposition we are led through the three leads' existences and how one key moment changed their lives completely, and while this approach at times might hinder the film's emotional impact in lieu of cinematic technique, the story told in 21 GRAMS is nonetheless powerful thanks to the performances of Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, and Sean Penn. Of the three there are no stand-outs: all bring their heart and soul into their roles and Sean Penn could have easily won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film since here, his role is rather difficult as his is more a plot device that effectively develops motives to act the way he does later on, but since his approach is so underplayed and profoundly sad, lost at times, we feel for him even when we are led to understand his condition is fatal regardless. Watts is all-out powerful, and anyone who can recall her beginnings in grade-Z horror films will certainly see a strong actress here: to see her receive the news of her husband's death early on is a stand-alone (as an equally good Clea duVall looks on, horrified), haunting moment. Del Toro, on the other hand, has an incredible, unique way of communicating his great inner torment through little more than his sleepy eyes; I've never seen acting this subtle yet moving. Even though he's done something clearly horrible, we care more for him because of his absolute, sincere change: this is an essentially good man who made a wrong turn and has a lifetime to pay for it.

21 GRAMS is a very strong movie, but at times, it comes too close to becoming too pessimistic to watch; however this is only a slight quibble.

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