[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 17:03 GMT
Review: 21 Grams
By Keily Oakes
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The film 21 Grams, which opens in the UK on 5 March, has won acclaim for its hard-hitting, innovative screenplay, while impressive performances from Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro earned each an Oscar nomination.

The opening shots of 21 Grams set the scene for a movie that is going to be bleak and gritty, with a complex plot demanding the audience's full attention.

Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts' character suffers emotional torture
It also lays the foundation for its non-linear approach, as scenes jump between seemingly unrelated characters in unfathomable time frames.

But give it three minutes and it will draw you into the action and drama in a torrid race to find out how the characters could possibly be linked.

Naomi Watts stars as a contented wife and mother of two children, living a comfortable middle-class life.

Sean Penn is maths professor Paul Rivers who is critically ill and in desperate need of a new heart.

Freak accident

He is supported by his English girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who is trying to cling to a wilting relationship.

The final lead is Jack Jordan, played by Benicio Del Toro, a reformed convict who has evangelically turned to God.

A freak tragic accident brings the trio together, with devastating consequences for everyone.

The title gives the impression it is about drugs, but 21 Grams is a metaphor for death.

It relates to the myth that everyone loses 21 Grams at the time of death, with the loved ones left behind taking on that burden.

Benicio Del Toro
Benicio Del Toro tries to tread the right path
There is no humour to be found in 21 Grams as the characters are broken at every step by cataclysmic events.

Watts thoroughly deserves her Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a woman whose life spirals out of her control.

Penn and Del Toro too are convincing in their roles, although they are not necessarily likable as their characters make twisted and often selfish decisions.

Penn gives a more subtle performance than for his Oscar-winning Mystic River, but it is no less powerful. Manoeuvre

21 Grams is a hugely ambitious attempt at telling a story in a non-linear manner - and works incredibly well.

The audience is kept guessing until the end as to how it will all pan out.

The coming together of the characters had the potential to be contrived, but the excellent screenplay deftly manoeuvres everyone into place.

The film will appeal to anyone who likes challenging and non-conformist cinema, with intense bleakness and tragedy throughout.

What did you think of 21 Grams? Did you find the non-linear storyline original and gripping - or just confusing? And were you impressed by the performances of its lead actors?

It is a rare thing that a film demands so much from the audience. The non-linear plot and the achingly honest acting of Del Toro really do ask more of you than so much of the simplified story-telling that comes out of Hollywood. The complexity of the tragedy is what gives it such a painfully keen edge. To watch this is to endure and enjoy. Brilliant.
Mike, UK

Outstanding!!! It was amazing how the movie showed you everthing from the very beginning and yet you had to see the entire movie to understand the final outcome. Besides, the actors deserved all their nominations (including Sean Penn). Brilliant!!!
Valeria Lima, Paraguay

It was a decent film but went over the top towards the end - the characters' supposed suffering was rubbed in a bit too hard. As it is the international women's week now, I'm forced to wonder why this film seemed so keen to stress that pregnancy does miraculously solve all problems a woman might have...
Janet, UK

21 Grams was disappointing although del Toro is effortlessly cool, Naomi Watts's pain is visceral, and the juxtapositions of healthy Penn/vomiting Penn are electric. There is some beautiful camera work (the dense flocks of birds), however the upsetting crunch reality of the characters' lives is too much to bear. They could have spent more than a 30 second soliloquy at the end to explain WHY 21 grams is lost.
Rob, UK

A dull pretentious film. I felt the only reason the non-linear narrative had been employed was to make a predictable story more interesting. A real shame after the brilliant Amores Perros. Sean Penn is a knockout as usual though.
Paul, USA

Without the jumping around it was pretty normal made-for-TV fare. And although the jumping around keeps you interested it isn't enough.
Roger, Italy

The basic premise of this story is a good one, but there is a real lack of empathy with the characters. Benecio del Toro earned his Oscar nomination but it could have been so much better.
Fiona , UK

Probably the dullest film I have seen in a very long time. I understood the non-linear storytelling which to be honest is almost de rigeur, so fashionable has it become, but the fact is the wait to find out how the 3 stories are interlinked was far from worth it. The story is incredibly weak and although I realised that I was watching a film packed with emotion, I experienced only boredom. A failure of monstrous proportions.
Sian, UK

This movie was one of the best I have seen for years. Granted, it's raw, seemingly undoctored quality made it quite stark and ultimately emotionally draining, but I left the theatre feeling like I had seen the product of an extremely clever screenplay, flawless cinematography and superb acting. It has all the makings of an unpretentiously arty masterpiece.
Beenie, London, UK

I have been waiting to see 21 Grams every since I first saw a trailer for it in Sept at the Times film festival, and had been expecting a really good exciting and gripping thriller. And this is exactly what I got. The three performances were excellent. I have never seen Watts in action before and never liked Del Toro but in this movie they were both excellent and convincing as their characters.

Sean Penn was both gorgeous and excellent in his acting skills. A movie well worth going to see. I thought it would be hard to follow but it wasn't. It was so good that the next day I was still thinking about it and talking it over with people. Has you asking questions and I love movies that make you ask questions and get you thinking.
Joanne, UK

Utterly breathtaking, easily one of the most impressive mainstream films released in recent years. Aside from the wonderful performances from the leads, this film demonstrates a powerful mix of wit, incisiveness and poignancy - definitely not to be missed.
Mark Zacharias, Colombia

The actors were great, but for me, the film didn't live up to the hype. It's a traditional style of story, but told in a needlessly pretentious manner.
Pete, UK

I've got this theory that 21 Grams was shot and put together as a continuous running story and ended up being so incredibly dull and boring that Alejandro González Iñárritu resorted back to the edgy plot jumping storyline he used so brillantly in Amores Perros. I agree that the acting from Sean Penn and Bencio was quality but actors of those calibre shouldn't be capable of anything else.

I was quite excited in the lead up to this film, I rated A.P highly (mainly on the back of the originality of the story) and the trailers and marketing spin made 21 Grams look original, edgy and interesting.

Unfortunately what we ended up with was a "seen that" grainy - jumbled up - film with a storyline pinned on the hope that the audience would feel rather gut wrenched and choke out a sob. As Public Enemy once said.... "Don't believe the Hype".
Matt, UK

I found this moving, thoughtful and ultimately redemptive. The initial part of the movie was intriguing, I found myself trying to grasp threads that would disappear. As I got used to the constantly changing time line I was able to trust the film and just go with it. Sean Penn was riveting and Naomi and Benicio were equally believable. I have developed respect for Sean Penn as a director since seeing his film The Pledge, starring Jack Nicholson, but when did Sean get so sexy? A film of grief, loss and anger. But totally riveting.
Joanne, UK

Just got back from the cinema, it was not what what I was expecting but it was brilliant. Just know that the film changes time and place every five minutes so you must make sure you are following everything or you may get lost. It deserves the Oscar nominations it got (especially Del Toro) and the five-star rating in Empire film mag. Go to see if you want a very different type of drama.
Paul Milton, England

Top movie, fantastic. Definintely worth the Oscar nominations and cinema ticket. Very pleasant suprise, very real film.
James, UK

Ther non-linear form of storytelling is a winner. What you have to have in the first place is an engaging story. 21 Grams is dull, over played and frankly a waste of film. The leads were good, but they always are. Put 21 Grams in order and you've probably got 21 seconds of good material.
Shane Morgan, Australia

21 Grams is a sophisticated puzzle. The performances, be it main leads of supporting actors, were superb and Benicio del Toro swept me off my feet. The non-linear storytelling in itself isn't original (and this is not meant to be a criticism); I've seen exactly the same approach in a little known Hungarian gem Hukkle. But it was very engaging and I am assured that it contributed greatly to the dramatic tension. The story was well-written and multi-layered with well-drawn characters.
Linda, Croatia

Gut-wrenching. That is the best term I can come up with for describing the feeling I had whilst watching this film. At times I was quite literally squirming in my seat, due to a combination of deep empathy with the characters and a frustrated anxiety brought on by the frequent time-shifting. This reaction, although perhaps not what one might want for a casual afternoon at the cinema, is none the less a tribute to the masterful way in which the non-linear approach is executed. I doubt the film would have been nearly as powerful had it been presented in a more standard style.
Dan, USA

I don't think it can be possible to say anything bad about this film-it was truly amazing. It just really blew my mind, and has got to be one of the best films I have seen. I thought it had beautiful direction, and the chopping and changing of time frames made it all the more interesting for me. I think it appealed to me because I like "different" films, and I saw this film as one of them, not using the usual logical plot.

The actors were perfect for their parts - Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn are two of my favourite actors, and they really gave it their all to their own parts. I had doubts about Naomi Watt's capability, but I cannot imagine anyone else playing her role, she really was perfect for it. This film gets a 10/10 from me. It showed me so many elements of my own life and the world we live in, challenging different aspects of society. 21 Grams is a must see film.
Emily, England

Tried too hard to be clever, mean and moody - ended up just being confusing and boring. The man behind was snoring loudly. The people next to us and in front walked out after about hour.
Jill Hiett, England

Excellent film, excellent story and excellent acting. Naomi Watts should have won the Oscar. I recommend it to people who like movies where you have to use brain cells.
Moeed, Sweden

Definitely worth seeing. The peformances, cinematography and the non-linear story line are all quite satisfying. The film stayed with me for days.

A really enthralling film. The unusual editing takes time to get used to - but the result is film-making as an art form - and three extremely fine performances from the leads. Highly recommmended.
Charles Hinton, France

21 Grams is a dark, moody and depressing film packed with powerful performances. It's not an easy film to watch with dark scene after dark scene edited in a confusing non-linear fashion. Grey and depressing this film would be more aptly monickered 21 Grims.
Paul, London UK

This is one of those films you're glad you experienced but would be hardpressed to say you enjoyed. It's a good example of the new crop of low budget films which have shied away from expensive budgets and traditional filming techniques. The non-linear method of story-telling works extremely well and keeps you motivated to watch until the end of the film. If it were not for that however I think I would have been ground down by the bleak story matter: slow lingering death, family tragedy and expressions of raw grief frequently on display.
Alan Bigham, Scotland

I saw 21 Grams last night at its showing for the Birmingham Screen Festival. It is overall a very good film, with brilliant acting and beautiful direction, you soon begin to feel comfortable with the time-frame skipping. However, it is at least 15 minutes too long, and has trouble keeping the audience engaged as the skipping around the timeframe lets you know almost everything about the film a long time before it finishes.
Paul Kerton, UK

Amongst the most tedious films I've ever seen. The split story approach is almost identical to the excellent Amores Perros, but here it totally fails. You understand the story about an hour in and have to wait another 1.5 hours for it to be played out. The acting is superb and the idea very original, but the director has sucked all the life out of it. A wasted oppurtunity.
James, UK

It is an entertaining film, but it seems to be an attempt to bring the idea of his previous film, Amores Perros, into the English language to tap the American market. For people who haven't seen Amores Perros this will doubtlessly impress, but those who have may desire a bit more.
Jimmy Clowes, UK

This is better than the vast majority of recent films but not quite as good as I'd hoped. Amores Perros, the director and screenwriter's previous film, was the best film of two years ago, original, beautifully crafted. This film hung on the same central premise as Amores. Only in this film we have established Hollywood names and the weight of expectation. And boy do these actors act their little socks off. They grimace, they cry, they suffer. You can virtually hear the scribbling of notes for that oscar acceptance speech in the background.

And the director sticks with his edgy hand-held camerawork and chops the timeframe into bitesize pieces to keep the story interesting. But by doing so we see the finale 30 minutes before the end of the movie, thus leaving himself nowhere to go.
Smike, London, UK

I liked the way the non-linear structure reflected how the characters were trapped by their experiences. It was only when hope and understanding came at the end that they could move on - and the film finally became linear.
John, UK

Hard work but worth it if you can get through the first 15 minutes. Very grim and heavy but well acted and directed. Definitely not a feel-good movie!
Alex Cahill, UK

I went to see 21 Grams a couple of nights ago, and have to say that although the performances by the main characters were very impressive, I found the backwards and forwards story just a tad tedious. All in all, the film lasted two-and-a-half hours and, to be brutally honest, I wish I'd chosen another film to see. My girlfriend fell asleep in it and I almost did too.
Toby, UK

Your E-mail address

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific