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Overall Rating
3.75

Awesome34.72%
Worth A Look: 24.31%
Just Average: 26.39%
Pretty Crappy: 10.42%
Sucks: 4.17%

13 reviews, 66 user ratings


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21 Grams
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by John Rice

"An acting showcase."
5 stars

Since the release of the popular independent film Memento in 2001, manipulating time lines in films has been particularly popular. While many have just been imitators, duplicating its backward time line, others have used the technique more constructively and creatively. Still, in even the most skilled hands, tampering with the timeline in a film can and often does run the risk of becoming a shallow scheme.

21 Grams uses an unconventional time line, but in this case the story jumps back and forth in time, without explanation, and between the 3 main characters as their lives converge. In lesser hands, this could be more a gimmick than a narrative technique, but in the hands of director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) and writer Guillermo Arriaga, the result is powerfully effective. Not only does it put the viewer on edge, but also contributes to the film's theme of how uncertain the consequences of many decisions actually are.

Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a University professor who at alternating times is dying of heart disease, living a seemingly healthy life and apparently bleeding to death. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is at one moment a strung out drug addict, at another moment a lonely woman consumed with grief and at yet other times a happy, healthy wife with two young daughters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) moves from an evangelizing, born again Christian, to a prison inmate to a man who has abandoned his wife and children. All these stories are told simultaneously and disjointedly in 21 Grams.

The fractured narrative of 21 Grams has seemed like a gimmick to some viewers, but it in fact serves an important purpose in the meaning of the story. A traditional, linear narrative will often imply events and their consequences are much simpler than they probably are. By breaking up the cause and effect of the many events which will bring these three lives together, the viewer is not only forced to run them repeatedly through their mind, but to turn them around and look at them from all angles.

At one moment Jack is preaching his beliefs and a minute later he is cursing them. The viewer is given ample time to consider the possible cause of this change before actually seeing it. Paul sits in a dirty motel room with Cristina, then is literally days away from death from heart disease, and then is hosting a dinner party with his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who announces they will be having a child. It is not even clear until well into the film which order these events actually happened in. (This review originally appeared on Slacker-Reviews.com)

The strongest aspect of 21 Grams, aside from the fine direction and writing, is the performances by the three leading actors. Penn, Watts and Del Toro put on a virtual acting showcase in a film that could have easily ventured into melodramatic camp. Their roles are handled with the level of tact and subtlety that is so often overlooked but is ultimately effective and powerful. It was high time for Sean Penn to win a Best Actor Oscar, but it probably should have been for his understated performance in 21 Grams than the more obvious one in Mystic River. Watts did get a well deserved Oscar nod, but had no chance against the juggernaut of Charlize Theron's serial killer in Monster. Watts would have been my pick, but I don't pick them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8348&reviewer=373
originally posted: 08/05/04 20:17:41
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User Comments

2/27/19 Courtney Love The sex scene between Sean Penn and Naomi Watts was filmed while her nipples were erect. 5 stars
12/28/17 morris campbell bleak & potent 4 stars
2/04/17 Aidan Butler Sean Penn character destroys logic of movie 3 stars
1/01/13 Davie bummer. 2 stars
11/25/10 Sia Shar one of great movies of the 2003 and the decade 5 stars
9/17/08 PAUL SHORTT CRUSHES ITS CHARACTERS UNDER ITS FOOT, THEN STEPS BACK & WANTS YOU TO LOOK AT THE MESS 1 stars
7/19/08 Shaun Wallner This movie was Awesome!! Loved It. 5 stars
12/21/07 Wendell O. Maness I love blood, want to drink it, love this movie 5 stars
12/05/06 andrew worst movie ever. boring and sux 1 stars
11/24/06 Charlene Javier Loved it as well 4 stars
6/24/06 MP Bartley Superb acting, but jumbled narrative is all veneer and no surface. 4 stars
4/12/06 anthonyuk superb and again sean penn shows his class 5 stars
11/21/05 Taylor Fladgate 4 Stars - but be sure to be ready to be depressed. Whoa. 4 stars
9/19/05 Indrid Cold Great use of a fractured narrative to spice up an otherwise ho-hum story. 5 stars
8/18/05 ES Broken time lines inmovie generally mean the director wasn't sure how to film it 3 stars
6/12/05 Agent Sands Plot order is as if PA dropped the script & had 2 shuffle it back together in a hurry. 4 stars
5/06/05 Vince Top notch cast and performances, editing seems random and as a result story is tedious 3 stars
4/09/05 K. Sear Nothing new but it delivers where other attempts fail. 4 stars
12/07/04 Orion Fascinating. More deeper that you think at first glance 5 stars
11/08/04 Matthew Wow..what an awesome movie! Naomi Watts rocks! 5 stars
9/02/04 Impey not too shaby 2 stars
8/28/04 capitalbliss Fantastic, I found the filming a little different but the movie is great!! 5 stars
8/11/04 kc finished the movie feeling...eh... 3 stars
7/31/04 Brad Gripping, great performances. 5 stars
7/16/04 Jim & Deborah incredible movie/fabulous directing and acting / "outside the box" so to speak. 5 stars
5/25/04 michele excellent! Del Toro's acting is hypnotic 5 stars
5/22/04 Monster W. Kung Good acting, but plot is tedious and the absurdly bleak and fractured approach don't help. 3 stars
5/16/04 elizaveta a really great out-of-order film. Sean Penn rocks, as ever. 5 stars
5/12/04  Shaun Rose Excellent movie with agreat cast, I reccomend to anybody who hasn't seen it 4 stars
4/22/04 Alex A good movie about life 5 stars
4/19/04 Phil M. Aficiando Mind jumbling pysche beater; great acting helps a lot, but.... 3 stars
4/06/04 A F Tried to hard to mess with the sequence 3 stars
4/04/04 Charlene Javier Proves that Amores Perros is no fluke! 5 stars
4/03/04 Vince Chan Finally, a non-linear movie that actually makes you THINK! 5 stars
3/31/04 The More You Know Like a challenge? Watch it - but be prepared! Josh G's take on it is helpful. 4 stars
3/27/04 Frank Lynch 21 Grams is a pretentious bore. 2 stars
3/24/04 Shelley Shea Sean Penn can do no wrong. 5 stars
3/24/04 Margie LOVED IT, LOVED IT!!! Naomi should have won the best actress oscar!!(I question the end) 5 stars
3/21/04 othree loved it, sadly, raw reminder of human natures +cast 4 stars
3/16/04 Holly Beeman I almost feel like it would have been more powerful in sequence, but he's got the tech! 4 stars
3/10/04 Matt Good performances but the story was just too slight to merit the style. 3 stars
2/27/04 Reini Urban +story, + cast, -camera 4 stars
2/26/04 Troy Butler Extremely emotional, ... amazing performances all round!!! TOP NOTCH!! 5 stars
1/29/04 Rapunzel Gladstone Poorly told story that would far and away be none too compelling if told well. 2 stars
1/27/04 marzio arigoni@rtsi.ch a punch in your stomach! Great performances, especially Watts and Del Toro, and editing 4 stars
1/26/04 Chloe Brody Not Sean's finest performance, but really powerful. Naomi deserves the Oscar! 4 stars
1/24/04 Smitty The most beautifully acted lousy movie I've ever seen 2 stars
1/22/04 Betty White Heavy, dark drama with grand performances. 4 stars
1/21/04 HAL You must think to understand this film and our thoughts are not linear. Fine film. 5 stars
1/20/04 Chronology The movie was based intense emotions and ideas, but is ruined by mixed chronology! 4 stars
1/20/04 Cheerleader who ran out of TP& has to wipe her ass with her pompoms Falls apart at uh, ending, or rather would if it had an ending. 2 stars
1/18/04 Gretchen Seitz "---" sucks! Since when is "no taste" a burnable in hell offense. 2 stars
1/18/04 the Grinch Typical movie you'd expect Sean Penn to be in...good script, but In The Bedroom it AINT 2 stars
1/17/04 john wonderful, great acting, camera technique, fine editing, beautiful work 5 stars
1/16/04 john bale Brilliant yet difficult gritty drama about Fate, great actors, grungy sets and camerawork 4 stars
1/11/04 KCobain Awful and depressing. Walked out after 45 minutes. 1 stars
1/02/04 Admiral Piett Sean Penn sucks donkey dick. 1 stars
12/31/03 --- Anyone who doesnt like this movie has no taste and should burn in hell 5 stars
12/29/03 ownerofdajoint if you like deep overlapping plots then you'll think this is a great movie;which it is 5 stars
12/19/03 AXE k 1 stars
12/14/03 Slo. Zombie This review just SUCKS !!! 21 grams AND Mystic river are two masterpieces of modern cinema! 5 stars
12/02/03 re A GREAT FILM 5 stars
11/30/03 Todd Stein A great film, interesting study of humans 4 stars
11/29/03 ajay tried to be cool with Memento-editing but it was overdone, confusing and masked a bad story 2 stars
11/22/03 smartmusician GREAT!!! 5 stars
11/21/03 benice save your money, worst movie of the year. 1 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Nov-2003 (R)
  DVD: 03-Oct-2006

UK
  N/A

Australia
  22-Jan-2004




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