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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

21 Grams (2003)


I don’t know what these people are selling, but I sure as hell don’t want 21 grams of it. Teeehee

’21 Grams’ interweaves several plot lines, around the consequences of a tragic automobile accident. Sean Penn plays a critically ill academic mathematician, Naomi Watts plays a grief-stricken mother, and Benicio del Toro plays a born-again Christian ex-convict whose faith is sorely tested in the aftermath of the accident.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is a director I’m sort of mixed with even though I have already seen three of his four films already, including this one. Still, seems like a good enough director but at the same time, very much into making everything look absolutely filthy.

When it comes to the technical sides of things, Iñárritu knows what to do. The film looks very dirty, grainy, and makes it almost seem as if everybody in the film needs a bath but it works and gives this film a sort of ugly feeling where nothing good will come and happen to these characters. The film also has some very razor-sharp editing that cuts away at some very good moments but mind you, this is not a very fast-paced film by any means, it is a long slow-burner that keeps you watching even when you think your out.

When it comes to the emotional side of things though, Iñárritu also seems like he knows what he’s doing. The film is very dark, sad, and very depressing but there is still a lot we can feel for these characters because each of them all had or still have something terrible eating at them from the inside. Iñárritu keeps all three of these characters’ motives tucked inside of them and it’s actually up to us what we think they will do next and whether or not they are actually good people. At times, it can be hard to feel anything for these types of characters but by the end, you really start to feel their pain and anguish, which is something that almost draws you closer to them.

The problem with all of this is, everything here is told in a non-linear way where it constantly jumps back-and-forth between past, present, and the future. This of course, has its negatives as well as its positives. The positives about this is that this way of approaching the story sort of gives it that feel of a jigsaw puzzle where one second we see two people happy, then the next second we see one of them getting shot, and it all feels confusing at first but after awhile you start to get used to it and connect all of the pieces anyway. I like these types of films that use this different kind of approach and it was pretty neat to see it used here but then again, it did have its negatives that were a little too big.

First of all, I think the whole idea of having this film’s narrative jump around from one scene to another was just because Iñárritu he wanted to spice up the premise that could have easily been a straightforward melodrama. If it was a film that just told its stories in the order that it happened, it would have still been easily as good as the final product here and I think that Iñárritu just did this because he knew that he needed to do something new and cool with this material to make it stand-out. Secondly, this point basically goes along with my first point in saying that it’s pretty pointless after all but then again, it did keep me a little bit more interested than I expected so I can’t talk total ish. However, my last problem was probably the biggest of all and took me away from the film as a whole.

I already stated that I could actually feel something for these characters because of all this bad stuff they had happen to them, but what really took me away from really getting inside of them and understanding how they felt was this narrative structure. The problem with this structure and this story was that the flick requires us to feel something for these characters by seeing all of these things that occur over a different time-and-place every 5 seconds, which doesn’t really allow them to build any real character arc because of the fact that one second they could be happy as hell, then the next second they could be crying like a little beotch, and then the next second they could be getting it in with their significant other. By the end of the first hour, the flick starts to get more linear but it can’t really do much for the fact that this flick jumped around a little bit too much and did damage not only to its characters, but also the audience watching it as well.

What took my mind away from this though was the amazing performances by everybody involved. Sean Penn plays Paul Rivers, playing the quiet and sophisticated type that we don’t usually see him play, but he does a great job here and is amazing at showing vulnerability with any of his characters no matter who they may be. Benicio Del Toro is amazing as Jack Jordan, the one dude who has an inner fight with God. With any other actor, this conviction from this sort of character would have been too hoky and too annoying but Del Toro makes it seem believable and shows what it’s like for the other person who causes the pain to someone else. Del Toro lets it all out with this performance and even when he seems like he’s going to do something terribly wrong and evil, you start to think otherwise once you realize that his character is actually a good guy after all.

Probably the one performance that shines throughout this whole flick is Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck. This performance is nothing short of amazing because Watts is able to show us a character that is practically falling apart right in front of our eyes, and it seems real and believable. Watts is asked to do a lot with her character here such as go through all of these different emotions over the course of 2 hours and it shows her exceptional range and vulnerability as an actress. Watts really tears out her soul for this whole flick but you can’t help but to feel something for her considering her whole life is practically turned to shit and it’s just great to see an actress in top-form like never before.

Consensus: 21 Grams features powerful performances, a dirty and grainy look, and a story that conveys plenty of emotions but the structure is also a problem for this flick because it not only takes away from the character arch of these people but also just feels pointless and put in here for no other reason other than to spice things up.

7.5/10=Rental!!

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8 responses to “21 Grams (2003)

  1. Evan Crean April 12, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I hate it when they use a non-linear format and it doesn’t really add much. With some movies it makes sense- pretty sure Pulp Fiction wouldn’t be nearly as powerful, but for others it’s just silly.

  2. Margaret (@lady_sati) April 13, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    I agree that non-linear narrative was pretty much just a device, that didn’t really add much to the movie. That said the acting here was magnificent especially from Watts and Del Toro. Great review!

  3. Craig April 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    This movie really impressed me. It left me emotionally drained and I thought the structure, at first confusing, actually made the movie hit me even harder as my head began to put all the pieces together. A superb movie and a great review, man.

  4. Chip April 15, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Yes, the non-linear narrative means that the viewer has to actually WATCH the movie to understand what is going on, but that’s what makes it better for me. I got invested in the storyline precisely because I wanted to find out how these people got from point A to point B. As you mentioned, it makes the film more interesting. I liked this movie quite a bit.

  5. vinnieh March 24, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Excellent post, you should check out my review if you get the chance.

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