Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: Seven Pounds (**1/2)

Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Elpidia Carillo, Robinne Lee, Joe Nunez, Bill Smitrovich, Tim Kelleher, Gina Hecht, Andy Milder, Judyann Elder, Sarah Jane Morris, Madison Pettis.
2008—118 minutes
Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, disturbing content, sensuality)
Reviewed by The Teen Critic on December 20, 2008.

Writing about the 2007 independent Kevin Bacon-starrer, “Rails & Ties,” Roger Ebert said, “…there were fundamental decisions to be made about the lives and fates of these characters, and I think somehow the filmmakers lost the way, lost sight of the people inside the plot.” Likewise, Gabriele Muccino’s “Seven Pounds” is like that. Here is a movie whose premise is ingenious but which bogs itself down in overbearing melodrama and other machinery. It’s utterly ordinary, and anyone looking forward to a brilliant follow-up to Muccino’s previous Will Smith film, 2006’s devastating and realistic “The Pursuit of Happyness,” will be disappointed and, afterward, inclined to look elsewhere.

“The Pursuit of Happyness” was never overbearing; its inherent sentimentality sprung out of believable situations, and above all, we cared about the characters. I wasn’t as invested in the character of Ben Thomas, especially when the Big Revelation is made near the end of the film. Not even when the film title’s meaning is revealed at the end did I for one second believe in him or, for that matter, the reason for his wanting repentance. It isn’t that I didn’t care; it’s that I didn’t know when I was supposed to.

Ben Thomas is an IRS agent, making his rounds to people who are possibly the final seven on his list. There is a blind telemarketer, named Ezra Turner, whom he insults on the telephone in the first scene of the film. And there is a woman who has developed congenital heart disease and is currently on a donor list. These two people, as well as five others, will be drastically changed in some way by the actions that Ben takes.

Oh, the movie works itself out by the end, but you’ll have it all figured out by the halfway point. Yes, the premise is intriguing. Yes, the Big Revelation is shocking and realistic. Yes, the final fifteen minutes are excellent (after all, the ending is most important, no?). Yes, the cinematography is gritty enough for the film to feel realistic. Yes, there are enough intense scenes between the actors to fill a book. My problems with “Seven Pounds” will perhaps be dismissed by those simply taken by all of the above and not looking for anything else in the picture. I, for one, am less interested in the story at hand and more interested in what takes place off-screen: the stories of those other five people, what troubles they are going through.

There are things about “Seven Pounds” I am weary of. One of them is the acting, surprisingly enough. I love Will Smith to death, and in nearly every one of his movies, he inhabits the character, even in disappointments like “Men in Black II” and “Hancock.” I use the word “nearly” because “Seven Pounds” is his first major misstep. If there was ever a performance that was over the top and too reserved at the same time, this is it. Smith is curiously off the mark here, overplaying the dialogue he is given. Woody Harrelson is simply awful as Ezra Turner, and Barry Pepper is forgettable as Ben’s best friend. The only person who comes through is Rosario Dawson, strong and affecting as Emily Posa, a woman fully aware of her mortality; it’s a brilliant performance deserving a better film. I am also weary of the screenplay, which sidesteps the more important storyline to pursue an unaffecting romance between two people whose relationship would be meaningless and absurd if the ending means what it means. Finally, I am weary of the terrible music score that turns saccharine in scenes that are supposed to be sweet (there’s a difference).

I’m at an odd place with “Seven Pounds.” I know people will see it, which I ultimately do not recommend, but I can’t ruin the ending. And that ending is brilliant. The rest of the film isn’t worth the time. At the same time, to understand the ending, the rest of the film must be seen. Do this at your own risk. It isn’t awful in the slightest, and you may like it, and I won’t blame you. Just know that this is not all there is. There’s more to it, and maybe the director’s cut DVD (or a redo) might bring the whole movie to light.

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