Depression runs '21' feet deep

This article includes a review and an interview with the cast and crew

Gritty, powerful film 21 Grams

4 / 4 stars

R, 125 m Starring Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro. Directed by Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu. Release Date: Nov. 26

In video stores, there should be a special section reserved for films that elicit the sort of depression usually reserved for mental patients on Prozac. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's latest contribution to the film market would fit right into this section. "21 Grams," Inarritu's second film, contains a sense of depression that is unrivaled by any other film released this year.

Inarritu, a Mexican director most known for 2000's "Amores Perros," is brilliant, but he and writer Guillermo Arriaga seem to have such a hopeless sense of the world and huge obsession with death, that it is impossible to leave one of their films feeling good about life. One can leave their film, however, feeling that the quality of "21 Grams" is also unrivaled by any other film released yet this year.

"21 Grams," unlike "Amores Perros," which is in Spanish with Mexican actors, is completely in English, with a cast of well-known Hollywood actors. Despite the addition of American elements, Inarritu retains the gritty and brutal sense that he captured so beautifully in "Amores Perros."

This film uses a car accident as its central point, examining how this accident connects the previously unrelated people who were affected by it, in a way very much like "Amores Perros." The story of "21 Grams" is simple, yet becomes complex through the use of a nonlinear narrative that allows for key plot points to be revealed slowly to the viewers, and in non-sequential order.

Paul Rivers, played by Sean Penn in one of his best performances to date, is mortally ill and needs a heart transplant. Paul becomes entangled in a somewhat twisted relationship with Cristina Peck (Naomi Watt in a Best Actress-worthy performance) after he receives her late husband's heart. Cristina and Paul set out to seek revenge against Jack Jordan (Benicio del Toro), an ex-con who has reformed through religion, for his part in the car accident. The resulting interactions lead to an unexpected climax and conclusion.

"21 Grams" is shot almost entirely on hand-held camera that gives it a gritty yet more intimate feel. Inarritu's style is dark and the entire tone of the film is extraordinarily pessimistic, but at moments a small sense of hope is able to float through.

"21 Grams" is a brilliantly made film with some of the best acting seen all year. It is stylistically impressive and deals well with the issues it sets forth to tackle. The problem (which may not really be a problem at all) is the fact that any viewer will walk out of the theater and head straight for the knife drawer. It takes skill to successfully evoke a deep sense of emotion on film, and Inarritu proves that he has this skill. However, this is a film that presents such heavy emotion that the studio should hand out anti-depressants before each screening.

That said, if you're able to stomach the emotion, "21 Grams" is a must-see, as long as you don't need to act happy for at least a day after seeing it.

Review | Interview

Cast, crew explain creative efforts in new film "I think every story has a way to be told," Guillermo Arriaga, the writer of "21 Grams," said at a college press conference last month in New York City. "I wanted the audience to have a dialogue with the film and the script. I wanted it to be very emotional."

The title of the film refers to the weight supposedly lost when a person dies; this weight has been speculated to be the weight of the human soul. Arriaga explained the significance of this idea for the film.

"For me these 21 grams are very important," Arriaga said. "It is the weight of a loved one's life that we carry for the rest of our lives."

"How tiny we are, but how significant we are," director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu added. "When people die, they stay with us, they don't go."

"21 Grams," which deals heavily with the subject of death, is a difficult film to watch, and was also hard to film due to the highly emotional nature of the story. Benicio del Toro, whose character suffers both physical and emotional pain, highlighted the difficulty of representing pain on film.

"The emotional pain is trickier to play," del Toro explained. "You have to keep track of the scene you did the day before. The physical pain you can act, the emotional you have to keep inside."

Naomi Watts, another star in the film, explained how Inarritu was able to create a supportive situation in which the cast could fully explore.

"Alejandro [Inarritu] created an environment that was conducive to working," Watts said, adding that the cast was also supportive. "I think we had each other. We had an enormous amount of trust with each other."

The filming environment, besides being very supportive, was somewhat unorthodox in terms of filming techniques. "21 Grams," because it was shot almost entirely by hand-held camera, allowed the actors more freedom of movement during shooting.

"Alejandro ... uses the same director of photography," Watts explained. "A lot was hand-held. It was sort of like being on the stage."

Inarritu has only directed one other feature film, "Amores Perros," which was done in his home country of Mexico, but seems to be a much-desired director in the United States. Sean Penn commented on his decision to work with Inarritu on "21 Grams."

"I saw 'Amores Perros' and I knew I wanted to work with him," Penn said. "There's something Alejandro brings, it's really unique. He sees life as exciting as he shoots it."

Inarritu, allowing the praise to roll off his back, merely said that he tries to depict reality in his films.

"As a director you develop ... some kind of lie detector," Inarritu explained. "I am very aware of what I am trying to do and why. At the end you can know if you achieved the reality of the film. I felt that I succeeded in that reality in the end."

Review | Interview

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