Monday, December 22, 2008

Changing 7 lives has never been done this way before


Will Smith reunites with the directors and producers of The Pursuit of Happyness for the emotional drama Seven Pounds. In the film, Smith plays Ben Thomas, an IRS agent with a fateful secret who embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption by forever changing the lives of seven strangers.


Forget what other critics are saying–I’m here to tell you that Will Smith’s Seven Pounds is worth your time…provided you’re in the mood for something off the beaten path. Sony has begged reviewers not to reveal too many details about the plot and I agree that the film is more effective the less you know about it going in. Still, I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t offer up at least a thumbnail sketch of what to expect, so here goes: after suffering a horrific tragedy sometime in his past, Ben Thomas (Smith) attempts to atone for his sins by improving the lives of seven strangers, including Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson) a blind phone salesman for a mail-order meat business and Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a beautiful woman with a failing heart. His exact intentions towards these folks are deliberately obscured by an elliptical editing style, which jumps around in time and keeps key details under wraps until the film’s final 15 minutes. But all the pieces of this puzzle do eventually fit together in a climax that I can guarantee, you won’t see coming. Don’t be surprised to find yourself gaping open-mouthed at the screen experiencing an odd combination of shock, horror and amusement. To say that Seven Pounds is an odd film is an understatement—it’s often downright bizarre. What’s even crazier is that the damned thing kinda sorta works, at least on an emotional level if not an intellectual one. Credit for this has to go Smith and Dawson, who wholeheartedly commit to this material and give audiences a central relationship to hang onto even as the story twists and turns on itself. Seven Pounds was directed by Gabriele Muccino, who previously guided his star to an Oscar nomination for 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness. As in that film, he knows how to goad Smith into letting go of some of his typical Big Willie tics and embody a character entirely unlike his offscreen persona. Ben Thomas may just be the most unlikable person the actor has ever been asked to play and Smith rises to the occasion. Within the first five minutes, for example, we see him berating Harrelson on the phone and then physically assaulting a retirement home doctor. To be honest, the film’s slippery chronology renders a lot of these early scenes baffling. Who the heck is this guy anyway and why is he such an asshole? As the film continues and Smith’s motivations snap into focus though, his nuanced performance becomes easier to appreciate. Dawson also overcomes a rocky start to go on and hit emotional notes we haven’t seen from her before. The romance that develops between Ben and Emily is more than a little absurd—not to mention creepy once it becomes clear where the story is going—but the actors sell it. While I can’t defend some of Seven Pound’s excesses (such as the scene that reveals Smith’s self-imposed fate, which is easily the most insane moment I’ve seen in theaters all year), it’s far from one of the most “crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” I’ve been wrong on these kinds of predictions before, but part of me feels that audiences will respond to this film in a way some reviewers haven’t, but Seven Pounds is a story with an interesting twist at the end, a talented director and a powerful lead actor. However, it isn't a story that will stick with you like truly great films do. The twist will probably shock you, though you may have guessed it by the end, but it won't make you think too much. You'll cry, you'll feel strongly, but then you'll forget about it in a week and won't even bother to pick up the DVD. It is a good movie that misses out on greatness simply because it was never really destined for it. I liked it enough to recommend it. It's different and that's what is needed these days...something different. A 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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