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21 Grams

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Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga to director Alejandro González Iñárritu:

    I have an idea: let’s make a relentlessly grim, gray movie with lots of joyless mechanistic substance abuse (nicotine, alcohol, cocaine, religion) about the lives of a weak woman (Naomi Watts) who loses her husband and two young daughters to a hit-and-run car accident committed by a reformed ne’er-do-well (Benicio Del Toro); and the dispirited dying man (Sean Penn) who receives the heart of the dead husband in a transplant, rejects his wife and stalks the despondent widow, who in turn decides that Del Toro – who had turned himself in for the crime only to be set free due to lack of eyewitnesses and contradictory evidence – needs to be killed for his crime and importunes Penn to do same.

    And we’ll tell the tale in cut-up, back-and-forth in time, threads-coming-together-in-an-explosive-climax style, only we’ll make sure that no one invests emotionally in our characters so they really don’t give a shit about the way we cleverly tie the plot points together at the end because they are sick of the whole thing long before then anyway.

    Come on – it’ll be fun!

My wife once again entered the video store, saw the words “Academy Award nomination” (Watts for best actress, Del Toro for best supporting actor, who were both, indeed, outstanding), went into a trance, rented the DVD, foisted it upon an unsuspecting household, then said, “I give up, you pick out the movies from now on,” about 3/4 of the way through this turgid, 2-hour slog through utterly humorless bleakness.

Okay, I did care to a certain extent about the Del Toro character, who was a decent guy attempting to do the right thing and live the right way with the full force of callous fate tossed in his careworn, haunted face; but I really just wanted it all to go away, which it eventually did.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.katefaber.blogspot.com RJ

    You’re a better man than I, Gunga Eric.

    The next Sean Penn film I’ll ever watch will be footage of his autopsy from Ogrish.com.

  • http://www.homosuperior.net Rick Powell

    Well, I’ll have to see it again but I remember being both impressed by the form of the movie (its elliptical story-telling) and with the way that form reflected the characters’ disjointed experience of the world.

    I generally steer clear of movies about junkies (Drugstore Cowboy is maybe the last word on that subject and it was made in the 80s) but 21 Grams showed about a billion times more care for its characters and thus affected me more than either Steven Soderbergh’s pompous and mildly racist Traffic or Aronofsky’s bloated, punishing and self-indulgent Requiem for a Dream.

    And Penn’s a lot better in this movie than in last year’s over-hyped Mystic River.

    I didn’t have fun with it but I’m not going to forget 21 Grams too soon, either.

  • Eric Olsen

    hi Rick, I didn’t really see this as a movie about junkies, the substance abuse didn’t seem to figure into the real fabric of the movie. It didn’t seem to be primarily a study of addict behavior or interaction – although it appeared that Del Toro had moved from one compulsion to another – but some kind of meditation on the bleakness of life in general, without a hint of redeeming humor. The bleak view can be valid, but there has to be something in there to redeem it – imagine someone like Terry Gilliam telling this story. I just found it insufferable.

  • Chris Kent

    Eric,

    I rented this on a Saturday afternoon and was a bit taken aback. After a while, I let the film wash over me and accepted it for what it was – a dark drama with three of the most talented actors working today flexing their stuff. Just on those merits alone, 21 Grams is a fascinating work. Penn doesn’t work too often, so when he does I usually catch the film. This was heavy going, but so anti-commerical as to be refreshing. And the performances are extraordinary. After a while, these three larger-than-life actors were the characters, completely disappearing into their roles. It’s not a date movie or an old married couple movie – but it is a true work of art.

  • Eric Olsen

    Chris, I understand and to a certain extent anticipated this point of view. The difference for me is I am not particularly concerned with virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake in art in general, but particularly in movies, which I expect to engage me if not entertain me. For me great acting (fill in the blank with any technique) should be in the service of a great story, vivid point of view, expression of some truth, entertainment, any number of things other than just acting for its own sake. I felt in no way edified by the movie, just depressed, dispirited, eventually bored and to a large extent manipulated. Perhaps it was “art” but for me it was not successful or “good” art.

  • Chris Kent

    I was never depressed by 21 Grams, but fiercely inspired. It felt good to watch a film that was such a challenge and attempted to give us a piece of emotional truth of a very dark situation. Never for a moment was I even remotely bored. I was watching a tragedy, and suddenly I realized, as did the Greeks eons ago, that perhaps my life was not really all that bad……

    21 Grams was one of the best films of 2003, and I am proud to recommend this challenging, dark and innovative tragedy that includes three of the finest performances one is most likey to see in any film during any era……

    This film has very few pop cultural references and not a single remake of a past better song by the latest bullshit hip-hop artist to be played during the end credits. It’s an intimate, dark drama about the tragic human condition. You want escapism, go rent Armageddeon…..

  • Eric Olsen

    hmm, I would say that was a false dichotomy

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    god, man, you give a fella a chuckle when he needs it, is what. whilst i don’t agree with it (although sure, it’s difficult to develop much of a damn about the characters initially, but i feel after about the half-hour mark that right there is overcome) i found this incredibly funny.

    You should maybe give his earlier (and similarly awards-lavished) Amores Perros a go. It’s got a more conventional narrative (although not much. very influenced by pulp fiction) but with more of a character arc going on than just bits and pieces here and there. Very intense and disturbing dog fight sequences though. (as in the animals, and not the planes shooting each other)

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    i’ll tell you what i find a much more depressing flick though (and not requiem for a dream, as mentioned above, which i saw almost as an exploitation flick – how much depression can you take! the tragedy never ends! it all got a bit laughable), was Magnolia. That scene where the cop loses his gun and he’s looking for it in the back garden, in the rain, that scene haunts me to this day. i don’t know why. Brilliant flick, though, whatever those jay and silent bob cats might insinuate.

  • Eric Olsen

    glad you got a chuckle Duke – I agree about Magnolia, haunting and moving although I’m not sure I enjoyed it terribly, but that one I can say is a fine film while this one just felt like my head was being viced