21 Grams (2003): Inarritu’s Grim Morality Puzzle, Well Acted by Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro

Grim and overwrought, 21 Grams, written by the Mexican Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, is well acted by its trio of stars, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, and Benicio Del Toro.

Unfolding as a puzzle, the narrative is unnecessarily complex in its convoluted, out-of-order structure, which moves forward and backward—and even sideways. The feature demands attention from its viewers, who need to construct the jagged pieces of this mosaic into a coherent whole

College professor Paul Rivers (Sean enn) and his wife Mary find their union precariously balanced between life and death. He is mortally ill and awaiting a heart transplant, while she hopes to become pregnant with his child through artificial insemination. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts), having matured since her reckless past, is a beloved older sister to Claudia, a good wife to Michael and loving mother to two little girls.

In contrast, former con man Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) and his wife Marianne struggle to provide for their two children while Jack reaffirms his commitment to religion.

Rather arbitrarily, a tragic accident (which that claims several lives) mercilessly places these couples in each other’s milieu.  Paul needs to confront his own mortality, Cristina must take takes action to deal with her present, and Jack’s faith is put to the test.

The desired goals—moral redemption and spiritual equilibrium—might be regained but at great cost to the others.

Since the filmmakers are humanist, and so they go out of their way—not always convincingly–to emphasize the basic will to live, and the deep instinct to reach out and connect with one to another, especially in time of crisis.




Release: November 21, 2003