Movie Review: Seven Pounds
Rosario Dawson and Will Smith and a big-ass dog. Photo Courtesy Sony Pictures.
The holiday box office season is generally a time for light-hearted, star-driven films that keep audiences engaged. After all, it is tough in this economic climate and with so few days before Christmas to take two hours out of your day to sit in a theater and really become involved in the characters on screen, even if the dialogue is upbeat and the main squeeze is totally that one guy from that one movie. The new Will Smith film Seven Pounds does an admirable job of two of these key elements, eschewing the easy-to-swallow fare in favor of meatier pieces for the audience to chew on.
In Seven Pounds, Smith plays Ben Thomas, a woebegone IRS agent with a definite (if undisclosed) agenda. Through cuts and jumps, we begin to piece together the back story of what exactly has brought Ben to such a place in his life, where his surroundings are in shambles and he relies on the crispness of a single suit and some IRS paperwork to get by. We also come to quickly see that Ben's actions are very specific, and mitigated on a single element of atonement. For what, it's unclear. But not unclear in that smokey art-house way where details are relegated to the second string while general themes duke it out on screen. Here the information is never lost, it is simply withheld, to be stored away like weight. And it is precisely when the action and plot (and Smith himself) truly begin to run that we see the energy of these previous scenes play out so beautifully, ensuring that film rife with cinematic conventions does not run out of breath.
While Seven Pounds is not a mystery, nor does it rely too heavily on the final smoke-and-mirrors conceit of typical 'gotcha' filmmaking, there is a certain level of secrecy that should be maintained in order to keep the film as fresh as it deserves to be. With that being said, it is abundantly clear that Ben's specific actions are directed from the outset at seven total strangers, all of whom are experiencing some type of major personal failure. Ben, as the philanthropic quiet type, knows (and shows) that it is well within his abilities to help these people in life-changing ways; provided they are truly deserving. As the list becomes finalized and his relationship with one of the seven - the heart-afflicted Emily, played superbly by Rosario Dawson - grows to exceed his expectations and his guidelines, Ben must work to find a solution that will release him from the emotional hell he lives in, and will affect these seven forever.
The greatest successes of Seven Pounds come from both the writing and acting, which is to say the best thing about cereal is the milk and the cereal. In this case, newcomer Grant Nieporte delivers a script that is bold enough to buck the traditional holiday sensibilities, but not so much as to alienate its audiences either. There are many archetypes to be relied on (but not overused), including the concerned best friend, the troublesome love interest, and that one looming moment of ultimate decision making. Most noticeably, Nieporte and director Gabriele Muccino have combined to create a visual story line that is as important as the plot itself. Because of the quick visual transitions in time and the swift-but-limited interaction with all of the major players so early on in the film, Seven Pounds is able to dedicate itself to stronger setups that pay absolute dividends by the end.
The second strong element, acting, should almost be considered as expected at this point. By rejoining with the crew behind Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith really gives himself the chance to carry on the troubled-but-motivated role he is able to work so successfully. And as a producer of the film, you can bet your ass he had a real stake in using every second of screen time to make the film so prosperous. With a supporting cast superbly mastered by Rosario Dawson and the under-utilized Woody Harrelson, the pieces really begin to fall into place for Seven Pounds.
Some early criticisms of the film have claimed that it is too self-centered and dreary to survive as a holiday piece, but the argument can (and should) be made that there is all the more reason to show the film the weekend before Christmas. When the box office line up gets filled with animated animals and folks wait in line for three hours to get an XBox, maybe it is the perfect time to release Seven Pounds. In this time, and in this season, a tale about redemption and sacrifice sounds like exactly what we need.