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21 Grams
Year:
2003
Country:
USA
Genre:
Crime, Drama, Thriller
IMDB rating:
7.7
Director:
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Sean Penn as Paul Rivers
Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck
Danny Huston as Michael
Carly Nahon as Cathy
Benicio Del Toro as Jack Jordan
Charlotte Gainsbourg as Mary Rivers
John Rubinstein as Gynecologist
Eddie Marsan as Reverend John
Antef A. Harris as Basketball Guy
Melissa Leo as Marianne Jordan
Marc Musso as Freddy (as Marc Thomas Musso)
Danny Huston as Michael
Storyline: This is the story of three well-meaning but flawed people: Paul Rivers, an ailing mathematician lovelessly married to an English émigré; Christina Peck, an upper-middle-class suburban housewife, happily married homemaker with two young daughters, with hiding a secret past; and Jack Jordan, an ex-convict who has found in his Christian faith the strength to live a law-abiding life and raise a family. They will be brought together by a terrible accident that will change their lives. By the final frame, none of them will be the same as they will have learnt harsh truths about love, faith, courage, desire and guilt, and how chance can change our worlds irretrievably, forever.
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Reviews
Intense and stark
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)

Intense performances by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro, not to mention some fine work by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo, make this almost too much to bear. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu throws out a line of tension and keeps it incredibly taunt from beginning to end while exploring the most fundamental human emotions: fear, love, lust, and tragic loss. He uses a technique being seen more and more in film, a technique in which the story is not told in chronological order, but temporally scattered. This technique is similar to that used by, for example, Christopher Nolan in Memento (2000) in which the story is told in reverse chronological order. Here there is a mixed pattern as the story unfolds, sometimes in sequence, sometimes out of sequence. At first it is disconcerting, then intriguing, and finally everything is abundantly clear. I don't think this technique is necessary, but it does have the virtue of forcing the viewer to become engaged in trying to figure out what is going on. And perhaps this heightens the cinematic experience.

There are three stories strung together on a single strand of fate. First there is the story of Jack Jordan (Del Toro) a petty macho criminal who has found Jesus. Second there is that of Paul Rivers (Penn), a college professor of mathematics who is dying because of a defective heart. And third there is that of Cristina Peck (Watts) who has found what she wants in life with a husband she loves and two young daughters. And then there is the tragic accident that seals their differing fates, and brings horror into their lives. The story is told in starkly realistic scenes spliced in jarring juxtapositions, skipping from one character's story to the other. The effect is to give us relief from the terrible events of one part of the story only to lead into another, and then to pull away from that story and into a third until the stories appear as one.

I cannot say enough about the performance of the three leads. Sean Penn is brilliant in an understated way as he projects (by turns) charm and tenderness, desperation and hope, and a kind of hopelessness headed for a flat line. Naomi Watts is electrifying in the intensity she brings to the most emotionally-wrought scenes. She is one of the most amazing actresses working today, and if you haven't seen her, see her here. You won't forget her. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress (losing out to Charlize Theron in Monster). And much the same can be said of Benicio Del Toro who was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (losing out to Tim Robbins in Mystic River). Del Toro's portrayal of a fated man who both found and lost his faith because of tragic events and his own failure of character was totally convincing and very sad.

If I had to nitpick I would say that Cristina's initial feeling that she couldn't be bothered to help prosecute Jack Jordan for killing her family did not square well with her later feeling that she wanted to kill him. Yet, I suppose, one's feelings can change. I also didn't think Jordan was the kind of character who would hit and run. He takes responsibility for his actions. He turns himself in and says that he has a responsibility to God.

As far as the ending goes, note that Cristina is dressed in bright, almost happy colors because of what was discovered when she donated her type O-positive blood to save Paul's life. Obviously I can't reveal what was discovered in a review, but I'm willing to bet some people found it redeeming and hopeful while others found it ironic while still others may have found it cheap and easy. Personally I thought it worked because everything in this movie revolves around very physical human events.

Bottom line: may be too intense for some viewers, and put the kiddies to bed.
2005-08-26
Formally accomplished melodrama
Cheerless melodrama, notable primarily for its accomplished formal style. Of course, that only goes so far, and while `21 Grams' is not as empty and gimmicky as, say, `Memento,' the fractured structure does occasionally feel like a cheat here too. (We can't help but wonder how gripping this story would actually be if told in a more accessible way.) Some, of course, won't mind this at all, and will take great pleasure in puzzling things out, but viewers should probably approach with caution.

Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga is somewhat heavy-handed in his management of the parallel themes, and his dialogue is often pretentious. The explanation of the (ahem, stupid and misleading) title is clumsily tacked on at the end, and I don't know how Sean Penn managed to recite that Venezuelan poem with such a straight face. Most disappointingly, the film lacks the wit of `Amores Perros,' the previous collaboration between this director and writer. But director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses all the arthouse tricks at his disposal to hide these shortcomings, shuffling everything around so that we don't notice them. And, for the most part, it works, though it's all rather bland and colorless.

As for the performances, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro are decent, and supporting players Melissa Leo and (especially) Charlotte Gainsburg are very believable indeed. Naomi Watts is sometimes very good (`You can't just tell a woman you like her'), sometimes unbearably shrieky (`I am a f*cking amputee!'), and never entirely convincing in her sudden shift from grief to vendetta. (Cf. Sissy Spacek in `In the Bedroom.') And I must say, I never entirely got past the star casting here--the principals are very much SEAN PENN and NAOMI WATTS and BENICIO DEL TORO, not Johnny Rivers-Or-Whatever, and Christine-Or-Christina Something-Or-Other, and Jack Johnson-Or-Jordan-Or-Some-Such.

Overall, the production is polished and respectable, but it never achieves the genuine depth of feeling of another oddly structured film about lost children, `The Sweet Hereafter' (which it sometimes resembles). Without it, `21 Grams' never becomes anything more than a stylish formal exercise. 6.5 out of 10.
2004-04-06
3 tales of pain , 3 tales of sorrow , 3 tales of misery .
I'm not what people would say in touch with my emotions that much . However one thing i realised from watching this film was that the power of the movies can make me laugh but up till now it has also the power to make me cry . Respect due to Sean Penn , Naomi Watts , and Del Toro for giving burning performances that stay fixed on the mind for long time after to come , the film never tore away from its theme at all which made it even better and not confusing at all but however it also created such a huge level of empathy that I personally found it very difficult to pick a favourite character - NOT MANY FILMS CAN DO THAT . This film is one of those films that show that life is not all black and white and that in the end there are no easy questions or comfortable conclusions . A must for any film enthusiast .
2005-08-29
Simple Story but Terrific Making
I have to say…. It's like memento. Simple story but the presentation and editing took the movie in the sky. In every scene, we could the see the director work. Casting also really good. Once accidentally read about Naomi Watts, that she didn't even read the script for this movie. Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and all other casting also really good. About the story, it's very simple. Benicio killed Danny Hutson and his daughters accidentally on his birthday. Due to this Naomi become widow and lonely. In hospital Danny's heart is replaced to Sean Penn who is suffering severe heart problem and which is not suitable for him. So Danny heart is replaced to Sean. Sean has met Naomi who is suffering her loneliness and she wants to kill Benicio for killed her husband and daughters. Remaining part whether she killed Benicio. Will Sean survive? What is 21 grams? For these please see the movie. All were gave their full efforts for the movie. If you miss a single scene in this movie. You could not get the story. Finally 9/10.
2012-06-05
21 Shams? In trying to make a great movie, it wasn't even good
I went into the theatre with great anticipation to see 21 Grams. I admire the talents of Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, and was anxious to see Naomi Watts. All of them gave very good performances, as did Melissa Leo. However, for me, the film as a whole, was a colossal failure and disappointment. In a nutshell, is any other film's narrative so badly fractured that you don't even care about the various dramas/melodramas played out: divorce, failed rehabilitation, the loss of a husband and two innocent children in a car accident, etc. etc...you just view everything with a detached confusion, and you're left outraged that you lost any opportunity to connect with the story and the fine acting because of the pretentious, heavy-handed direction.

(I never considered myself a great fan of Clint Eastwood, but compare this movie's narrative to that of Mystic River. In Mystic River, you care so much about the three main characters, and all of the supporting players -- the theme(s) are disturbing and compelling enough, and the director allows you to know the characters to a great extent as both the mystery and suspense build to a crescendo. In Grams, you have none of that --you are just jerked around, maybe to hide how ridiculous the story would be if presented more conventionally?)

To this point, I have seen no other film(s) by this director. He may indeed be talented, as perhaps it takes a talent to misfire so badly on a film. And, I do not mind a non-linear device if it serves the story. In Memento, this device works because the sudience is processing the mystery as the main charcter himself is. The non-linear projection also heightens the plot and irony of Pulp Fiction.

In Grams, it felt like the scenes were shot in whatever order (that's ok), and than the director numbered them, and threw them into a hat for the order they would be presented to the audience. As such, the movie lost any sense of continuity with the themes and the characters. It made for a singularly frustrating movie-going experience. A majority of critics have praised this film as both intelligent and respecting the same intelligence from the audience. I'm sorry, but is it audience participation when the questions you are compelled to ask are on the order of: "When did this happen?" "Is that the same lady?" "Did she change her mind?" "Why did she change her mind?" "When will this pretentious exercise be over?"

Speaking for myself, this movie was a terrible misfire, and the directing style robbed us of any chance to connect with the characters and the themes he was trying to present. Instead, I was angry that I could not enjoy the performances (especially Watts'), as the movie had already lost me so much earlier. By the time we get to Penn's ending narration (a la American Beauty?), I just laughed at the pretentiousness, and almost wanted to cry about all of the lost opportunities to make a decent film that you cared about.

Somehow, 21 Grams made imdb's top 250 of all time. For me, it may not have been one of the Top 250 of 2003.

2004-03-25
here we see that movies can have
I loved this movie. There was almost nothing wrong with it. The only reason I gave it an 8, was the movie had little to do with the title and I feel as if it has added for nothing. The movie had enough brevity that it did not need it. Trying to make Sean Penn a mathematics professor was almost laughable. I am currently working on a PHD and I do not see any type of personality of a mathematician in him. The speech he gave Niamo Watts was silly and not convincing at all. I could have written a better math speech, but other than that the movie was amazing. This is one of the few movies where the editing made the movie. The acting was totally unbelievable and I think we see a whole slew actors really showing their acting muscles. It was extremely powerful and was envisioned in the perfect way. My favorite scene and this may sound perverted but the scene where Sean Penn and Niamo Watts have sex. I though Niamo Watts did a fantastic job acting in that scene. You could really see her pain and pleasure. I think it was a sex scene that was necessary and well done. I cannot wait to see Babel and I hope to see him growing up as a director. Del Toro was top notch in this and I think I may watch Traffic for the soul reason that he is in it. Like I said if I was not a mathematician I would probably would have enjoyed the movie more.
2007-04-22
Be a careful driver
The most I took away from this film was a reminder to drive carefully. I found the film ponderous and self-conscious. The most interesting part was the picture-puzzle editing. The most disappointing was the under-explained and poorly developed relationship between Penn's character and Watts' character.
2004-01-21
Great movie, wonderful acting
Definitely one of the best movies I have seen in years. It left me a very powerful impression and most of the people who see it cannot forget it very easy. I love the fact that this movie seems so non-hollywoodian, looking more like an European art movie. The plot is superb and the fact that the happenings are not presented in their chronological order makes it even more impressive. It's almost impossible not to sympathize with the characters, not to mention the fact that Watts, Penn and especially Benicio del Toro are at their best. I made quite a few suppositions until I realized, after the first 30- 40 minutes what was actually going on, but then, the puzzle fits perfectly and you realize that all those hallucinating images make perfect sense, and everything is very realistic, even if, at a certain moment you may experience the feeling that you are watching a David Lynch adaptation of a Kafka book (which would actually be very interesting to see). A film hard to digest by those who go to the cinema just to see light funny movies you can forget the moment you walk out of the room, but a "must see" for all the real cinefils, who enjoy an exquisite, total cinematographic experience.
2006-08-31
From the girl who really tries hard to LIKE movies!
Okay... I'm usually easygoing when reviewing artistic endeavors. I like differences. I love trend setters in movie-making technology. I even like off the wall... and I like creative license belonging to the artists. In some instances, I'm willing to be force fed garbage to get to the meat of a flick, and I've actually ended up loving movies I initially hated.

Not this time.

I usually try hard to see what someone has tried to convey, and if there is a good message anywhere there, I can find it without a lot of coaxing, but this movie was a big fat waste of time in my DVD player.

Even my popcorn and snacks couldn't get me into it.

I don't know what the NY Times is using for their rating system, but I did NOT think this was the "crowning work of this year." I thought it was probably the worst example of movie making of this year. I'm not a dumb person, and I can follow a tough plot... but when too much of what's going on has to be pieced together or I have to take mental notes along the way and continually rewind the DVD to see where what fits, it's just too darn much energy to spend on a movie that is supposed to entertain me that only ends up befuddling me. If I had gone to the theater to see it, I would've walked out, and I don't walk out on movies.

As often happens in Hollywood, once again, the children out-acted the adults here many times over. I've seen a Lot of offerings by Sean Penn in my time, and found most of them to be at least good examples of acting ability. This movie did not challenge him at all. It didn't challenge me, either. I hated it, and would not recommend it to anyone I know. Why? I felt that the lives of the people were too confusing... You couldn't figure out for a long, long, long time how they were even linked together, then when you finally figure it out they keep flashbacking the heck out of you where you feel like you are being jerked in and out of a time machine repeatedly. I really don't like that unless you're dealing with a movie about time travel (for that, I recommend "Timeline"), not when it dominates every single scene, and it does. I honestly started to believe that Sean Penn's character had a twin brother somewhere, because he kept coming to us from different stages of his life and it was up to us to figure out the stage.

I won't say it was boring. I was too busy trying to figure out the point of the movie, and whether or not there was a plot to get bored. I just don't believe plots should be something that are unveiled in the final twenty minutes of a (very long and very confusing) movie.

Another thing: The music. There really wasn't any music. Just sounds. Very grating, annoying sounds. Sounds that made me feel angry and irritable, like being trapped in the car with a kid that has a horn or other annoying noisemaker and he keeps blowing it just to get on your nerves. No wonder I was so grouchy by the time this film (finally!) ended.

Two thumbs down... If I had more than two, I'd share them too.
2004-05-22
Pretentious
The screenwriter and director appear to have resorted to excessive nonlinear story telling and "arty" film technique to disguise what is a weak and rather corny story. The dialog, if presented in a more conventional form, would have had the audience in stitches. As it is, everyone is having a fun time working out the plot line like a crossword puzzle. Unfortunately, this is not enough to maintain the interest in what is an overly long and pretentious movie.

2003-11-30
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