Rather than telling the story with a definitive beginning, middle and end, Iñárritu and collaborating script writer Guillermo Arriaga play 52-card-pickup with the scenes of this film causing the viewer never to know exactly when the events in a given scene are taking place, what's already happened versus what is still going to happen, and whether or not the viewer knows more than the Character at any given moment. Not since Billy Pilgrim has anything been quite this unstuck in time. This film makes Pulp Fiction look like an experiment in straight-forward storytelling technique. Somehow this disjointed and scrambled method of storytelling manages to work by telling the audience too much of one part of the story, not enough of another, and forcing them to revel in the gritty limbo in-between, never sure what they do and don't know for sure. As the film's 125 minute run wanders by in pieces we see how the lives of the principal players are intertwined with each other in sometimes amazing, sometimes shocking ways, and as we see just how all of this is linked together one is reminded of a Car Crash that can't be looked away from!
At the time of this writing, Naomi Watts is nominated for an Oscar for her role in 21 Grams! This is both well-deserved and well overdue! Here Watts plays Cristina Peck a recovering drug addict and family woman who is at last right on track when the cards of this movie are reshuffled into a life much closer to that thin black line. Oscar may love a beautiful woman who gets ugly for the camera (a la Ms Kidman in The Hours) but if that's the case Oscar needs to look at Monster because Watts is incredibly beautiful whether at the height of marital bliss, or at the bottom in a hotel room sneaking pills and coke hits. Or whether she's completely and angelically naked filling the screen with sculpted flesh. Does the Script call for nudity? Who cares? THANK YOU LORD!
I remember clearly when Benicio Del Toro was the most "Punk Kid" of all Bond Villains. He was actually good then, but he's incredible now! As in Traffic, "the bull" melts completely into his role and almost makes you forget he's acting. His Jack Jordan, also inexorably linked to Watts, is both sympathetic and deplorable. At once he's faith filled and disgustingly blasphemous! It takes not only the prime editing skills of the film makers (with credited editor Stephen Mirrione), but also an incredibly rich and multi-layered actor like old Benicio. As Jack Jordan's story unfolds you may love the guy, or hate him, but you will respect the actor who brings him to life! Give the kid his second Oscar, then go rent License to Kill and check out his history!
I'm going on record right now to state that Sean Penn is one of our greatest actors! If you remember him from Fast Times at Ridgemont High or still think of him as "De Niro Light" forget about it. There isn't a better actor out there, and I mean that! Sean Penn blows me away as the chain-smoking, dying Paul Rivers. From the waif awaiting a new Heart Transplant to the tortured grantee of his 21 Grams back, he's incredible. He's not exactly the guy you want to hang out with, but you sure as hell will be captivated by his oft-altered plight. If it weren't for a tiny little film called Mystic River I've no doubt Penn would be nominated for an Oscar for this film! Hully Gee!
From the enhancing method of telling an already great script to the grainy and realistic film stock to the shockingly great acting by both leads and supporting characters (including the always watchable Clea DuVall) this is one wonderful and intentionally low-budget film. The flaws here are cheap as used sunglasses for me to mention and they all feel pretty intentional. For one thing there is no real denouement or resolution at all here. It feels as if Iñárritu and Arriaga sliced off 21 Grams from the lives of these unfortunately linked characters and told no more or less than they had storyboard space for. Again, it's a cheap shot, because this film is as satisfying as Cold Water after a Race. This is also a very bleak slice of life that doesn't exactly leave one uplifted. Just a caveat... I don't mind not being inspired film by film by film by film by film! However the gritty and grainy realism is so affecting that one feels almost as if they're an unwitting participant in the events of the movie. Don't attempt it unless you're ready to be pulled through the wringer of human wreckage and be left with more questions, both about the film and about life than you had when you went in to the film!
I followed The Cooler with this film, and I'm not convinced that was a great move! It left me feeling philosophical and pensively introspective and every bit as uplifted and happy as a lobster landing in boiling wa-wa, man! I think any writer would agree, though, that you'd be hard pressed to find a better written script and more affecting direction of said script! Four and a Half Stars (out of five) for 21 Grams! It's an amazingly acted and written film that couldn't be as successfully or starkly represented by any less a director than Iñárritu! This is an experiment in good acting and good film making. There wasn't a single special effect, almost any hint of action takes place off screen! There's nothing to prop this film up save great acting and a great story guided by a great first-time American Feature director. See it! Your ticket price could count for the budget of the next film! Now for something less Heady... Back to A Clockwork Orange!