Alejandro Inarritu is fast becoming the king of non-linear car accident movies. I don’t mean that as a jab. Innaritu’s new film, “21 Grams” is sort of an English-speaking companion piece for his previous film Amores Perros, which was made in Mexico a few years back. Both films feature car accidents at the vortex of their volatile and complex stories.
“21 Grams” features Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts, and a great supporting cast, all giving it their best shot and hitting the mark. I don’t want to reveal too much because part of the fun of watching this quite dismal film is piecing it together as you go. Told in a jarring, non linear fashion, more so than the usual non-linear meandering tapestries woven by your average art film, this one is quite in your face–gritty, bleak and grainy. Often cutting from one storyline to the other on the same character. One minute the guy’s having a quiet smoke in the bathroom, the next minute his bloody body is being cradled by someone we know he hasn’t even met yet. Yet it’s not hard to follow. You know you’re in good hands, and things will fall together in the end.
If you liked Amores Perros, you are in for a treat. As I said, the two have their similarities, but I think “21 Grams” manages to make a bit more sense and does a better job at keeping it all reined in. So what’s with the title? No, it is not a drug movie, although drugs do come into play. The 21 grams refers to a bizarre little tidbit of information spoken by Penn’s character. Apparently, when we die, we all lose the exact same amount of weight: 21 grams. I have not researched this, but it’s an interesting notion. Lets go with it for a second. 21 grams…that’s basically what separates the living from the dead. How do we divide up that 21 grams? How much is pleasure, how much is pain? How much is happiness, or heartache? How much is revenge…guilt…and it’s all gone at the moment of our death-the weight of a humming bird. I think the film tries to explore how we as humans divide up that little “carry-on bag” some might call the “soul.” In the eyes of the writer and director, it seems that humans pack way too much of the bad stuff and not enough of the good. Certainly it’s easy to focus on the bad things, especially when horrible things happen to us, and it’s hard not to get swallowed by that “beast,” as so many people do. This story is about those who get swallowed by the beast-hell, not just swallowed, they get torn to pieces.
I’m sure it was a real hoot to be on the set of this one. Nary a laugh to be heard the whole two hours. But hey, if I want to laugh, I’ll bust out my DVD of “Raising Arizona.” When you sit down for this one, it’s time to get serious. Trust me, if you have a thirst for a good, dark drama, this one is a big gulp.
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