4 November 2004 | thegouch23
Putting the Pieces Together
A movie directed in inimitable style, Inarritu's 21 Grams is a provocative, deeply moving filmic work that explores several fundamental questions: What is a life, what is its value, and can we place a value on it? Directed in a series of small, seemingly disconnected fragments that come together as the film progresses, the film is thus shot in a style deeply unfamiliar to American moviegoers. At the beginning, most American viewers will find the choppy, nonlinear timeline distracting and frustrating - a cinematic form of coitus interruptus where once on the verge of revealing an underlying plot concept, the fragment abruptly stops and is picked up at an unrelated point. This style continues throughout, but don't worry. The answers do come after a while.
It is worth noting that the actual storyline, when told linearly, is not as gripping as when told in this style. The linear form would resemble a typical mindless story of the wounded seeking revenge. The way Inarritu constructs the story allows him to give the viewer a sense of where various characters are at the same time without the appearance of repetition. It allows moviegoers to see actual events first, then form associations later. There is a sense of, "Oh, now I get it!" that would be conspicuously absent if 21 Grams were told linearly.
Moving on, the performances of the actors and actresses in the film are incredible. All are believable. The animalistic hatred of Christina Peck (Naomi Watts) for Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), the deeply troubled father who regrets his big mistake and has become a born again Christian, is palpable throughout. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is genuine in his efforts to repay, literally, a life debt. The performances breathe further life into the series of events that 21 Grams attempts to chronicle.
By the film's ending, the entire tale of what has transpired is revealed to the viewer. Since key plot elements often appear in several of the disconnected sequences, they come to be points of reference that astute moviegoers can use to sort the rest of the plot. By the end, everything is complete. The title is finally put into context, and the attempt to answer the three previously mentioned fundamental questions is made. Yes, at the beginning, this movie may not seem to make much sense, and it may even be frustrating to watch. Still, resist the temptation to get up and leave the theater. Stick around and watch the whole thing. The pieces do ultimately fall into place. I promise. And besides, there's only one way to find out.