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A Matter Of Life And Death
21 Grams (2003) (DVD)
Member Name: Mauri
21 Grams (2003) (DVD)
Advantages: Naomi Watts, Benecio Del Toro and Sean Penn
Disadvantages: Harrowing in parts
The meaning of the title doesn’t become clear until late on in this movie but some time before that we are left in no doubt as to the theme that the film is dealing with namely death, loss, grief and ultimate redemption. This makes for harrowing and emotional viewing.
This is the moving story of three very different people who are brought together by one tragic event.
Housewife Cristina Peck (with some skeletons in her closet) lives an idyllic life with her loving husband and two young daughters until her life is destroyed by their untimely deaths at the hands of a hit and run driver.
Ex-bad boy Jack Jordan has finally turned his life around finding new hope in his Christian faith. He is a beacon in the poor community in which he lives and tries to help other young men not to make the same mistakes that led him to a life of crime and prison. However his faith is shaken and his life overturned by a tragic event that leads him to question his deepest beliefs.
Paul Rivers is a university mathematics lecturer who is dying of heart disease has recently got back together with his wife she hopes by artificial insemination to have his child after his probable early death.
Each is deeply affected by tragedy and through a series of coincidental event they are brought together as each impacts greatly on the life of the others. It is difficult to delve further in to the plot without giving too much away and since the film relies heavily on the events unfolding gradually with many twist on the way.
The film is directed by Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu who came to prominence with ‘Amores Perros’ (2000) and indeed there are similarities between the two films in the story as well as the style and it is no surprise to find that fellow Mexican Guillermo Arriaga penned both screenplays.
The three stories which eventually merge are told by short (sometimes less than a minute long) series of scenes but confusingly not chronologically. This allows the director to examine the events from the viewpoint of each main character but rather like another challenging film ‘Memento’(2000) or even one of Naomi Watt’s previous outings Mulholland Drive (2001), it requires some thinking on the part of the viewer to piece together the disparate bits of the puzzle in order to work out the flow of the narrative.
This was confusing to begin with and I found myself asking plenty of questions as the story and characters changed to a fro from life before and after the pivotal event. However it is a tribute to the skill of the director and writer that once you got over the initial awkwardness of not being able to follow the story in a traditional way you were completely swept along with the tense events unfolding. In the end the fracturing of the plot in this way allowed the events to make more impact as the truth behind the tragic lives of the three people became clearer. In fact it could be argued that the story itself told in a traditional timeline would not come across as well or be as compelling. The splintered narrative is accompanied by grainy, intimate and uncompromising visuals, which really helps to enforce the fallibility and humanity of the characters.
This is not a comedy and I think even the most macho viewer will be hard pushed to hold back a few tears as you really engage in the emotional turmoil that Rivers, Jordan but especially Cristina Peck are put through. Having said this it never descends to mawkish sentimentality. The characters feel real and even in their darkest moments their flaws show through so that they don’t automatically elicit the viewers sympathy. These we are made to believe are real people dealing with enormously stressful situations. They don’t react in a preconceived ways that we are accustomed to in the movies their reactions are extreme and brutal but always human. There are no good guys or bad guys and a moral ambivalence towards their plight for the most part is hard to avoid.
The acting is universally superb and both Naomi Watts as Peck (Best Actress in a Leading Role) who is quickly becoming one of the classiest actresses in Hollywood and the dark brooding Benicio Del Toro as Jackson (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) fully deserve their Oscar nominations. Sean Penn as Rivers, an actor who I’ve reluctantly in many ways grown to like over the years puts in another excellent performance and was possibly unlucky to miss out on yet another nomination. The backing cast made up of Melissa Leo as Jordan’s wife and Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Serge) as River’s wife also put in great performances, especially impressive is Leo as the long suffering wife who is intent on keeping her family together.
The film examines the fragility of human existence and the interconnectivity of people even if they are as is the case here from different social backgrounds. While many might think that ‘21 grams’ is another ‘Amores Perros’ for an American audience it would be unfair to think of it in this way. While the basic premise of the two stories are obviously related ‘21 grams’ is a more mature and sensitive film. The non linear set up and lack of chronology could be considered as nothing more than a gimmick but again this comment would be unfair since even though the puzzle is engaging it still doesn’t get in the way of the drama and in fact enhances the story which. The film is finally most impressive for the quality of the acting.
CAST AND TECHNICAL BITS
Sean Penn .... Paul Rivers
Naomi Watts .... Cristina Peck
Benicio Del Toro .... Jack Jordan
Charlotte Gainsbourg .... Mary Rivers
Melissa Leo .... Marianne Jordan
Eddie Marsan .... Reverend John
The film is 124min in length and is rated 18 in part for a couple of sex scenes, violence and drug use but I would have though the nature of the themes alone would preclude a younger audience.
It is available on DVD from Play.com for £5.99 delivered at the time of writing this review. An absolute bargain and highly recommended!
© Mauri 2006
Summary: Three lives are thrown together by a tragic event