21 Grams also known as “21 gram,” “21 gramos,” “21 Gramm,” “21 grammes,” “21 gramów,” “21 gramm,” “21 grammaa,” “21 grammaria,” “21 grammi,” “21 grammi - Il peso dell'anima”
Reviewed by: Richard F. Schmitz
Crime Thriller Drama
2 hr. 4 min.
Year of Release:
November 21, 2003
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Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “It is a story of hope and humanity, of resilience and survival. Whether you fear death or not, it comes, and at that moment your body becomes twenty-one grams lighter. Is it a person’s soul that constitutes those twenty-one grams? Is that weight carried by those who survive us?
A strong Christian theme runs through 21 GRAMS, however it’s pretty clear that the artistic force behind this theme is unaware of an authentic relationship with Jesus. There are many depictions of religion and religious people, but the film as a whole painfully lacks any understanding of a world with a loving Savior, and it’s too bad because to a believing Christian viewer, 21 GRAMS will feel empty despite its skillful acting and brilliant direction.
I felt this message was deliberate—that there is no God, or hope, and that our lives are subject only to random acts of fate which turn mostly on the intervention of other individuals. 21 GRAMS is not so much violent as it is relentlessly sad and hopeless. The cinematography and score are brilliant, but the viewer is left to be relentlessly drawn into a world of dark interiors, strip mall ugliness, stark landscapes, filthy bar bathrooms and cellblocks and the like. Even scenes of children playing in a living room or on a sidewalk carry a dark foreboding.
The plot of the film centers on a human heart which is transplanted into a morally failing academic played by Sean Penn, who remains one of a small core of serious actors working today. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses a cutting-edge style which has events occurring in rapidly-cut, seemingly random time sequences. It can be a chore to follow at first, but there’s a method in his seeming madness and film’s story soon begins to unfold.
There’s no point in giving the plot away. Essentially a single tragic event unites the film’s three main characters: Paul Rivers, played by Penn, suburban housewife Cristina Peck played by Naomi Watts, and ex-con Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro). It is the depiction of Jack Jordan that Christians will find troublesome. An ex-con—mostly in and out of prison on minor charges—Jordan is a husband and father of 2 who is attending an inner city mission church. The one scene where everyone is singing works OK, but the pastor is played as being foul-mouthed, legalistic and unloving, as is Jordan. Clearly there is no light from the goodness of the Gospels here.
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The director and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga no doubt are seeking authenticity, but sadly the film casts the church as essentially irrelevant and hypocritical. I don’t think these depictions are mean-spirited as much as they are lacking in knowledge of a believing Church. Jack Jordan, for example, is portrayed as a sinner who is sincere about trying to live as a Christian, despite his failures.
There’s graphic sex and plenty of violence, although I couldn’t say any of it was gratuitous in the Hollywood sense. There is a faint attempt at the theme of redemption and forgiveness, but it’s so overshadowed by the general misery of the film’s story and characters that it pretty much fails to make it past the sea of anger, shame, failure and sadness.
One wonders, why was this film made? The human misery is relentless. There is little to recommend except as an exercise for film school students. The direction, cinematography and acting were all brilliant—but 21 GRAMS lacks soul at all levels.
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