Thursday, February 26, 2009

SEVEN POUNDS: The Pursuit Of Tears

SEVEN POUNDS (mystery drama)
Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper and Michael Ealy
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Time: 123 mins

Rating: * * 1/2

Rosario Dawson and Will Smith as lovers in Seven Pounds

PREAMBLE: Seven Pounds opens with its ending: A tired and frazzled-looking guy (played by Will Smith) calls 911 to report a suicide. When the voice at the other end asks, "Who's the victim?", the guy answers: "I am."

Now that director Gabriele Muccino (working on a screenplay by Grant Nieporte) has given the ending away, there is nowhere else for the narrative to go except backwards - in a series of jumbled-up flashbacks that seem designed to confuse the audience.

THE SKINNY: The title probably refers to the 'seven pounds of flesh' debt from Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice. Seven Pounds, however, is not a mystery thriller like The Sixth Sense where its 'curiosity factor' evaporates once we catch on that Bruce Willis' character is a ghost. In Seven Pounds, even though we can guess the gist of what's happening, Muccino has put in place many puzzles and plotholes that needed to be filled.

In the first half of the film, none of what you see makes much sense or seem to be of dramatic significance.
In the opening scenes, for instance, we see that Smith's 'Ben Thomas' is an IRS investigator (or Taxman) who has a list of people that he needs to work on. One is Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), a blind customer service employee whom Ben insults on the phone, seemingly for no reason. Then there is Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a heart patient in need of a transplant whom Ben goes all out to help - not only with her taxes but also her garden!

Later on, Muccino starts setting up more plot pieces - like a deadly jellyfish that Ben keeps as a pet in his motel room; his flashes of a fatal car accident; a deal Ben makes with his lawyer friend Dan (Barry Pepper), and another he has with a woman (Elpidia Carrillo as Connie) who is a victim of physical abuse by her husband. These pieces will fall into place at the end of the movie and that's when curiosity may give way to incredulity.
Seven Pounds is Smith's second movie with Italian director Muccino - after The Pursuit of Happyness in 2007.

Here, however, Muccino's aim seems to be the Pursuit of Tears, given the emotionally-charged sequences Smith has with Dawson. These, by the way, form the touching love story that lends depth and meaning to the movie. Some may find the proceedings too manipulative and tacky while others, especially the women in the audience, may succumb to the tearjerker.

: If you are muddled by this review, it is because I am trying to avoid spoilers for those intending to catch the movie. Indeed, Seven Pounds demands a great leap of faith from its viewers. If you are prepared to suspend disbelief and buy into the movie's redemption theme, then you may be swept along by it. Otherwise, it will be just another highly-contrived Will Smith fable that is not quite the standard of Will Shakespeare's play.

(This review was published in Life & Times of the NST)


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