Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga, 21 Grams is the story of three people who are each connected by the death of a person as they each cope with loss and faith. The second part of a trilogy that explores death, the film is a multi-layered story that plays into the lives of three people who don’t know each other but become connected by tragedy. Starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Melissa Leo, Danny Huston, Clea Duvall, Denis O’Hare, and Eddie Marsan. 21 Grams is an ominous yet exhilarating film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
When a hit-and-run claimed the lives of a man and two little girls, the lives of three different people are affected in drastic ways as the film is about tragedy and its after effects. Much of it involves the life of a critically-ill mathematician who is need of a heart transplant, a grieving widow who also lost her daughters in this tragedy, and a born-again ex-convict whose faith is tested over what had happened. Through Guillermo Arriaga’s complex and multi-layered screenplay, it is told in a non-linear fashion as it plays into not just the tragedy but also the search for meaning as one man tries to find redemption, another man is trying to find answers into why he’s alive, and a woman is caught in the middle over what she had lost. All of which plays into those dealing with mistakes and such as well as several other things where everyone tries to find answers.
For the mathematician Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), he is given a second chance to live but his own marriage to Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) starts to fall apart as he becomes obsessed with the identity of the heart he had received which would lead him to Cristina (Naomi Watts). Cristina would learn about Paul and what he has to do with the death of her family as it has the two come together to track the man who was responsible for changing their lives in the ex-convict Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro). Yet, there are elements into both Cristina and Jack that are interesting as the former was a former drug addict who was saved by her husband as she found a reason to live as that loss drove her back to drugs and alcohol.
In the latter, here is someone who is trying to redeem himself as he devotes himself towards Christianity and swear off drugs and alcohol but his involvement in this tragedy forces him to question his own faith and being as he has no clue what to do as he carries the guilt. All of which forces all three characters to converge into a heavy confrontation about loss as it is, once again, told in a non-linear fashion. There’s moments that play into the drama where all three have to work together as it becomes clear that none of them have anything to gain in this tragedy that their connected by. Even as they all know that there is nowhere else to go as some try to find redemption while others seek an answer.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s direction is very entrancing not just for how dreary he presents the drama but also into the many layers that the story takes. Much of it is presented with a sense of intimacy as Inarritu’s approach to close-ups and medium shots play into the anguish that occurs throughout the film. Even in scenes where Jack eats dinner with his family as he is trying to be a good father but his approach might seem harsh as it relates to his own children. Much of Inarritu’s approach is shot with hand-held cameras but it’s never overly shaky as he maintains something that is very steady and to the point. Notably as Inarritu would create scenes to tease various storylines coming together such as Mary waiting for Paul as he does surgery as she gets a glimpse of Cristina walking out of the hospital with her family.
Since it is a film told in a non-linear narrative, Inarritu is able to create moments in the film where it allows a scene to be told in very different ways. Even as he would shift moments that is supposed to be in the third act back into the first or second act as it plays into the drama. There’s also moments in the film where things do intensify on an emotional level as it relates to Cristina’s grief and Jack’s own guilt such as the scene of him returning home as he reveals to his wife what he had done. Inarritu’s approach to the compositions in how he frames his actors are also intense such as its climax in the third act as it is about who is where in the frame and such. Overall, Inarritu creates a very brooding yet somber film about death, faith, and understanding.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto does amazing work with the film‘s grainy and colorful cinematography where it adds to the very grimy sense of despair that looms in the film with its gritty approach to daytime exteriors to its usage of low-key lights and dark shades for the interior scenes whether it‘s day or night. Editor Stephen Mirrone does brilliant work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts and other stylish cuts to play into the drama and its offbeat, non-linear narrative. Production designer Brigitte Broch, with set decorator Meg Everist and art director Deborah Riley, does excellent work with the look of the different homes of the three characters to showcase who they are as well as some of the places they go to including the swimming pool center that Cristina goes to.
Costume designer Marlene Stewart does terrific work with the costumes as it‘s mostly casual for the look of the characters to play into their sense of loss. Sound designers Martin Hernandez and Roland N. Thai do fantastic work with the sound to capture the intensity of the emotions as well as some of the chaotic moments of violence and drama that occurs in the film. The film’s music by Gustavo Santaolalla is superb for its very ominous and eerie score with its emphasis on folk guitars and somber electric guitars to play into the drama while music supervisor Lynn Fainchtein brings in a nice soundtrack that features different kinds of music from acts like War, Ozomatli, Ann Sexton, and Dave Matthews.
The casting by Francine Maisler is remarkable as it features notable small roles from Carly Nahon and Claire Pakis as Cristina’s daughters, Paul Calderon as a friend of Jack in Brown who tries to get him work, Denis O’Hare as Paul’s heart surgeon, John Rubenstein as Mary’s gynecologist who tries to help her chances to be pregnant, Clea Duvall as Cristina’s friend Claudia, Danny Huston as Cristina’s husband Michael, and Eddie Marsan as Reverend John who tries to help Jack following the tragedy. Melissa Leo is excellent as Jack’s wife Marianne who tries to cope with what Jack had done as she tries to help him. Charlotte Gainsbourg is superb as Paul’s wife who is eager to start over with him after a separation period as well as taking care of him as she copes with the changes in their life after his surgery.
Benicio del Toro is brilliant as Jack Jordan as a former convict turned born-again Christian who becomes the catalyst for the tragedy that is shaped in the film as he spends much of the film questioning his faith and ponders if he can be redeemed. Naomi Watts is amazing as Cristina Peck as a recovering addict who falls back into her addition following the loss of her family as Watts display the sense of anguish that looms over her as she searches for answers and satisfaction. Finally, there’s Sean Penn in a marvelous performance as Paul River as a mathematician who was dying until he received a new heart as he ponders whose heart does he have as he tries to find answers while coping with his own mortality and existence.
21 Grams is a phenomenal film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu that features very strong performances from Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio del Toro. It’s a film that doesn’t explore the severity of death and tragedy but also plays into the world of existence and faith. It’s also a film that doesn’t play by the rules of conventional narrative thanks in part to Guillermo Arriaga’s inventive screenplay. In the end, 21 Grams is a tremendous film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Films: Amores Perros - The Hire-Powder Keg - 11' 9' 01 September 11-Mexico - Babel - To Each His Own Cinema - Biutiful - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - The Revenant - The Auteurs #45: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
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