Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
- Sean Penn as Paul Rivers
- Naomi Watts as Cristina Peck
- Benicio Del Toro as Jack Jordan
- Charlotte Gainsbourg as Mary Rivers
- Melissa Leo as Marianne Jordan
The second film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 21 Grams is a vivid, visceral and fragmented view of lives intersecting after tragedy. Examining the lives and actions of three principal characters, the film becomes a visual jigsaw as the audience attempts to fathom what events will lead them to redemption and revenge.
The three principal characters in this fragmented narrative are Paul, a dying mathematician, Cristina a former drug addict who has cleaned up her ways and Jack, an ex-con turned devout christian. Their lives collide when Jack after drinking runs over and kills Cristina’s husband and two daughters. This leads Cristina back to her old ways to try to cope with unimaginable grief. Paul, is in need of a new heart and eventually receives the heart of Cristina’s late husband. As his marriage to his British wife Mary crumbles, Paul begins a relationship with the grieving Cristina who is out for revenge. All of these events transpire in non-linear order, giving the viewer an insight into the characters before and after the tragedy and the events that will transpire as a result of this one fateful incident.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has fashioned an interesting film about redemption and retribution. The script by Guillermo Arriaga delves deep into the emotions of these emotionally wounded characters, revealing the inner turmoil and confusion each experiences throughout the narrative. Although at first the non-linear narrative may leave you bewildered, as the events continue to unravel we are given a bigger picture of what is happening as the pieces begin to form an inexplicable link to each other. This style is not for everyone, but it is certainly interesting to watch the past, present and future of each character’s life as they unfold like a coiled snake.
The acting of the leading trio is uniformly excellent. Sean Penn reveals a deep humanity within the character of Paul, who is just about holding on as the last flicker of light in his life begins to slip away. Naomi Watts puts in a powerful turn of sorrow, anger and heartbreak as her character tries to grieve and later get even with the cause of her pain. Benicio Del Toro is a menacing presence as the ex-con turned preacher who attempts to write his wrongs, but is ultimately unable to escape the guilt he has inflicted upon himself. Because of this powerful trio of portrayals, the secondary characters lack something and only contribute tiny things to the story. Charlotte Gainsbourg and Melissa Leo are talented actresses but are underused in this film. Regardless of this minor gripe, the film still remains an evocative look at damaged people trying to make good with their lives.
Evocative, thought-provoking and inventive, 21 Grams is a film that is once seen, never to be forgotten.