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Movie Critic Review: 21 Grams (2003)

Soul-lite: A Plot To Reweigh!

Mexican Filmmaker Inarritu
Sean Penn
I don't know how to calculate 40 minutes in grams but that's how much it took me to disentangle the dark threads that made this gritty mishmash of a plot for this film. But only a little bit. It is probably wiser to listen to those critics who believe you need to see it at least two times. Hence is my invitation to you to get a copy for your own personal library.
And you are lucky. There was a time when some very unconventional movies where simply no where to find following their exit from the market cycle of distribution. Now you can find virtually any movie, any time, any where by a few clicks and for a few dollars!
Benicio Del Toro
21 grams is basically what every man needs to be alive!
and just 21 grams is what you loose to qualify as a dead man (or woman)!
This mythological equation is based on the idea that "the weight of the soul is 21 grams".  Thus this movie maps the charts of life and death, faith, atheism, joint guilt complex, the fear of losing everything, and the discourses of being and nothingness through a non-conventional narrative packed with suggestions of lasting instability and permanent anticipation. All of these through three axes or main characters that meet in a devouring destiny. Paul "Sean Penn", the heart patient who has only one month to find a donor. Cristina "Naomi Watts", the amiable lady who lost her family in a car accident. And Jack "Benicio Del Toro" the ex-con who finds faith and is attracted to the church with such enthusiasm that makes him believe the car he won in a raffle was a gift from Christ. These characters are associated by entangled strings of destiny. Jack, driving his newly-won truck at high speed, runs over Cristina's husband and two daughters who were on their way home. Overcome by confusion and selfishness, he flees away instead of trying to help his victims. The victims are moved to the hospital where Paul is lying in a deep coma closer to death than to life.
Naomi Watts
From the first scene where we see birds filling the general background of the screen, the camera moves in close-ups, flashbacks and flash-forwards purposely destroying time around the central figures. These rapid transitions from the past to the future and back to the present, list events in a non-linear, chronologically distorted manner that allows the viewer the freedom to interpret and restructure these events based on a facilitated understanding of these three characters linked by a stunning fate. This prominence of characters is the central concern of the movie without which the story would be impossible to translate into cinema.
We move from scenes dedicated to Jack in prison, to Paul in the hospital to Cristina in the pool, and as the events grow, we see through sharp signals how the fate of each character intersects with that of the others. The second row of actors maintains a strong association with the events. Paul's wife dreams of having a child by her husband who has only one month to live and is not motivated. Jack's wife tries to understand the change of her husband from an ex-convict to a religious man and his struggle with faith and atheism. At one time, commenting on his undue suffering, she tells him that "life has to go on Jack with or without God!"
But the character of Cristina, powerfully portrayed by "Naomi Watts", seems to dominate
the story as she and Paul, the man who was saved by her deceased husband's heart, meet and go into a relationship based on gratitude not love from his side and wrecked by a huge amount of emotional outbursts from her side.
Then she triggers the plot to revenge from the killer of her family.
The movie climaxes in a series of breakdowns, attempts at redemption and suicide.
So.. "How many lives do we live? How many times do we die? They say we all lose 21 grams... at the exact moment of our death. Everyone. And how much fits into 21 grams? How much is lost? When do we lose 21 grams? How much goes with them? How much is gained? How much is gained? Twenty-one grams. The weight of a stack of five nickels.
The weight of a hummingbird. A chocolate bar. How much did 21 grams weigh?"
Movie-making, in fact artistic or literary creation in general, is more or less an act of bravery or boldness. It is to say what might not be apparent to others as if it was the most apparent thing. And your ticket is ready:"That's how I see it!"
I am referring to the bold editing style of director Inarritu. Some cuts seem to challenge the cozy flow of your comparative mind working at the back while you are watching.
Then you also "see" poetry written by the hand-held camera and intimate shots. The realistic lighting and familiar dimness.
Focus and close-ups are keys to communicate how this movie keeps on
betting on people's facial expressions and body language because it is telling about life and death, moral conflict and values through a romantic scenario delivered in simple words. Key to all this is the acting. You can't think of any other actor to do what Sean Penn did.
No one can be as fascinating as Naomi Watts or as captivating as Del Tor. You also get
to appreciate the wonderful performance by both "Charlotte Gainsbourg" as Mary and
"Melissa Leo" as Maria and the children in the movie.

A Note On Gustavo Santaolalla's Music:
About the accordion in Gustavo Santaolalla's melancholic music that derives from any
sound including noise in the street and is built on short notes.
The accordion has surpassed the Spanish guitar in this movie.
It is reminiscent of the flavor of European movies.
It sure has a huge emotional impact on the few romantic moments of the movie.
The movie might feel heavy for seekers of light entertainment.
All puzzles are supposed to puzzle your mind. So how about a titanic jigsaw puzzle?
I recommend it for a Sunday after-noon when that melancholy feeling about Monday morning is best tackled not by a resumption of booze but by movies that ooze!
This movie oozes at 8.5 out of 10. Most other reviews believe so.

21 Grams-2003 (Rated R for sex and language, 114 min, color)
Genre: Character Drama
Sean Penn, Benecio Al Toro, Naomi Watts
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu 
Screenwriter:  Guillermo Arriaga
Music: Gustavo Santaolalla
Editor: Stephen Mirrione
Cinamatography: Rodrigo Prieto
Budget: 20 million Dollar (Nov2003)
Estimated Earnings: 16 billion (March2004)

Below Are Links To Obtain 21 Grams:


  1. I have learn some excellent stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to make any such excellent informative web site.
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  2. Very kind words, Mary. Thanks! For every meaningful writing there must be a motivation. The acting (almost all actors were good) and the directing and intriguing editing in this movie solidfied into a real motive for me.


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