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21 Grams

Catherine Bisley



21 Grams is the latest film from Alejandro González Iñárritu, the master behind the brilliant Amores Perros. The title refers to the amount of mass said to escape the body at the moment of death – the legendary weight of the soul. Indeed, the film is weighted with questions about all the biggies: life, love, death, religion, revenge, organ transplantation, and much, much more. See it in a philosophical mood.
As he did in Amores Perros, writer Guillermo Arriaga links three stories through a car accident. Benicio del Toro is an ex-bad boy turned fundamentalist Christian, of that frightening extremist ilk that believes ‘God knows even when a hair on your head is moving’. This belief is destroyed when, in a speedy state of religious passion in his truck painted with fervently religious slogans, he runs down and kills a father and his two daughters. Sean Penn plays a maths professor; one of those disgrace-ful 40-something academics who has taken advantage of his position of ‘power’ (luckily there’s none of that carry on at Vic…), to the detriment of his marriage to a neurotic Pom. Heart disease destroys this lifestyle, and he is reconciled with his wife. This all changes when he receives the heart of a man who was run over. Completing the trio is Naomi Watts, who plays an ex-party girl/ junkie. After the horrific death of her two young daughters and husband, her life is torn apart (excuse the cliché, but it is) and she returns to her wicked ways.
Both Del Toro and Penn deliver moving performances. Watts is surprisingly good; after having played terrible parts to their worst potential in films such as Ned Kelly, and Le Divorce – in a role which could so easily have been overwrought, she draws her part out into all its emotional complexity. The supporting line up are also very strong, especially the un-nerving fundamentalist priest and Del Toro’s haggard wife.
Amores Perros’ cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto returns (also of Frida, 25th Hour, and 8 Mile), again using the handheld camera to great effect with intensely penetrating close-ups drawing the viewer right into the film (and also revealing the many imperfections of Naomi Watt’s complexion). The harsh environment of the American city in which the film occurs (González Iñárritu never gives it an exact location) is grittily reflected, the often overexposed film lending a surrealism which complements the film’s non-linear narrative structure.
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu