Combustible Celluloid
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With: Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Benicio Del Toro, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, Clea DuVall, Marc Musso, Eddie Marsan, Melissa Leo, Teresa Delgado, Carly Nahon, Claire Pakis
Written by: Guillermo Arriaga
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexuality, some violence and drug use
Language: with English subtitles
Running Time: 124
Date: 09/05/2003

21 Grams (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'21 Grams' Worth of Impressive Moves

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most talented Quentin Tarantino knockoff around. His accomplished feature debut Amores Perros borrowed the twisted three-act structure from Pulp Fiction and even clocked in at about the same running time. Inarritu nurses the same taste for shocking violence and unexpected turns in storylines. And, like Tarantino, he follows the least expected character into a completely unexpected new arena.

Now the Mexican-born Inarritu has come to Hollywood for his follow-up feature, 21 Grams. That title does not refer to drugs, but to a metaphysical question that only comes up at the film's end. Though just how this question connects to the rest of the story isn't clear. 21 Grams employs an impressive time/space structure that captures our full attention right from the start. Events initially appear to happen backward, as in Memento but it's really a kind of back-and-forth effect. We'll see present events, followed by future events.

The story has three unlikely heroes whose paths would probably never have crossed had ex-con Jack (Benicio Del Toro) not run over a male pedestrian and his kids. The man was married to Christina (Naomi Watts), and the man's heart was donated to save the life of Paul (Sean Penn). At some magical point, the picture jells. We begin to understand the structure and just where the events fall into it. Tarantino cleverly crafted his Reservoir Dogs in this same way; he wanted to confuse us in the first act, to put us on the same page in the second, and to put us ahead of the game in the third.

Regardless of the recycled material, Inarritu does show off some spectacular moves with 21 Grams, most notably in the three outstanding 'A'-list performances. Penn in particular gives one of his warmest, most humane performances (he confesses a crush on Britney Spears at one point). Mostly, I applaud Inarritu's trust in the audience and letting us actively participate in his film. That kind of courage belongs to him and to no one else.

After all the Oscar hype, the DVD release comes with very little except the movie, which I suppose will be enough for some fans. Three audio tracks, Dolby, DTS and French language, plus English, Spanish and French subtitles.

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