Wednesday, December 24, 2008
I had seen the preview for Seven Pounds several times before going to the actual movie, and what struck me about the trailer was that it didn’t spoon feed me the amount of character and story information that I’m accustomed to these days. I had mixed feelings about it. I distinctly remember being curious, but confused at the same time. Seven Pounds seemed like a movie that was going to make the viewer work to keep up with the story. That proved to be true, but its story makes viewers work just a little too hard, and the blend of curiosity and confusion lingers throughout. In the end you’ll be keeping your fingers crossed that it all adds up, and you’ll be disappointed that the film finds ways to dance away from its strongest element in the courtship of two wounded characters, for the sake of its elaborate conclusion.
Seven Pounds is directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) and stars Will Smith as Ben Thomas, an IRS agent who takes it upon himself to alter the lives of seven strangers for the better. Why he embarks on this mission is a secret that Muccino and writer Grant Nieporte guard half heartedly. They feed you pieces to that particular puzzle, but you’ll have it solved well before the full revelation. The clandestine treatment of Ben’s past seems unnecessary, and unfortunately, so did most of the strangers in the film.
Rosario Dawson plays Emily Posa, a printmaker who suffers from an ailing heart. She’s the most important of the seven strangers to Ben Thomas and the most important to us. Woody Harrelson plays Ezra, a blind pianist and second of the two most worthwhile strangers. I loved Dawson, and throughout the movie I wanted to yell at Ben Thomas for not falling in love with her as quickly as I did. In these depressing times their steady courtship is what people care about, but the movie keeps jumping away to secondary characters that are small parts of Ben’s mission. On paper they may seem big, but on the screen they come off as distractions. Ben rescues an old lady from an abusive hospital, helps a Hispanic mother flee an abusive relationship, and donates bone marrow to a young child, but these saintly moments don’t hold much weight. For us to care about all of seven strangers and draw any real reward from Ben’s deeds, we need to spend more time with those characters, and to do that the movie needed to be three hours long. I don’t think Will Smith had it in him for three hours of Ben Thomas. At times, two seemed like more than he could handle.
There’s no questioning Will Smith’s ability to deliver as an actor, but this was the first role of his that I’ve seen in which he seemed stiff and perhaps a bit uncomfortable. I think a part of the problem is that there really just isn’t much of an emotional range for Ben Thomas. He spends most of his time somewhere between depressed and very depressed. His moments with Emily present opportunities where his character can really evolve, but Ben takes small steps forward and stops in the realm of the bland. Granted the character has reason to be angry and depressed, but someone like Will Smith is so gifted with his knack for drama and comedy in the sense that the man can go anywhere as an actor, so it becomes frustrating to see him stuck with Ben Thomas in a sort of character bubble.
People will go see Seven Pounds because of Will Smith, but people should go see Seven Pounds because of Will Smith and Rosario Dawson. The film is at its best when they simultaneously occupy the screen in a story about two people that need each other. When you pull away, it’s a story about more than just two people, and it’s about a man’s mission. But there will come a point in the film when most viewers will abandon Ben’s mission in favor of his underlying love story with Emily. You will hope that in the end the pay off will be as good as Muccino probably thinks it is, but when you arrive at that pay off, it will be hard to escape a feeling of underachievement. You won’t be too upset about it, because in the end you’ve watched two characters who needed each other find one another. It doesn’t matter how good or bad times are, if done right, that element will always leave viewers happy.
I'm a sucker for Victorian-era film/photography. I was really delighted to see BFI reaching into their archive for the holidays... Oh, how far special effects have come since 1898!
Courtesy of the British Film Institute.
Made in 1898, G.A. Smith's 'Santa Claus' is a film of considerable technical ambition and accomplishment for its period. It uses pioneering visual effects in its depiction of a visit from St. Nicholas.
A former magic lanternist and hypnotist, Smith was one of the first British film-makers to make extensive use of special effects to create fantastical scenes. It comes as little surprise that Smith corresponded with the French pioneer Georges Méliès at about this time, as the two men shared a common goal in terms of creating an authentic cinema of illusion. (Michael Brooke)
Courtesy of the British Film Institute.