If you’re following this thread, you may note that I am trying with some of these entries to mention films that may not be as well known or have fallen by the wayside.
Sure, I could have gone with any number of great films with numbers in the title: Seven Samari, 8 1/2, The Seventh Seal (my all-time favorite film next to Jaws). I could have even gone with 8 Heads in a Duffle Bag, but I’d like to forget that monstrosity ever existed.
In 1907, in an attempt to scientifically prove the existence of a soul, Duncan MacDougall weighed six terminally ill patients before and after their death. He found that after passing, each lost an average of 3/4 of an ounce, or 21.3 grams. “Logically,” he had to conclude that we have a soul and we even know the weight of it. (Never mind the absence of oxygen in the lungs, lack of bodily fluid, etc.) Widely debunked, not in the least because six is an extremely small sample size, the study means nothing.
But it gave us a film from 2003 that will continually haunt me.
The second in the planned Trilogy of Death series planned by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, 21 Grams is a solid film viewed alone, and the best of the three entries. That’s saying a lot because Amores Perros (2000) and Babel (2006) are excellent movies in their own right.
Iñárritu is a god among mortal directors. Like Michael Keaton in Birdman? Leo getting attacked by a bear in The Revenant? Yup, he’s your director.
And as much as enjoy his later work–I didn’t even mention Biutiful—21 Grams is the one that consistently sticks with me. For starters, the narrative is non-linear. This frustrates many film-goers, but I happen to love it. The style forces you to be more engaged in what’s going on, pay more attention. It also begs a rewatch or two.
And don’t act like y’all don’t flock to other films with a similar narrative device. I’ve already geeked out over Sin City, and I know I have a few readers here who are die-hard Pulp Fiction stans. Those are non-linear narratives.
Aside from this, Iñárritu has vividly colored the film with palettes dealing with each of the major characters, often nearly bleaching the screen, other times flooding it with blues. He uses a hand-held camera for every shot, creating a frantic but intimate space. And, he often frames shots in deliberately awkward fashion, cutting off parts of people’s heads, providing extreme wide angles where the focal point is nearly lost, and zooming in too close on other subjects.
I mean, he opens the film with an extreme close-up of a woman’s erect nipple. I recall going to see this movie in the theater. That vision on a 45-foot screen made it a little awkward for me and the girl whom I was on a second date with.
The subject matter didn’t help. In other words, while everyone should see this flick, I would not recommend it for a romantic evening of Netflix and whatever.
I won’t spoil any of the plot itself. Suffice to say there are three intersecting stories that come to a head in an explosive manner.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the three principal cast members: Benicio del Toro, Sean Penn, and Naomi Watts. All three of them put on an acting clinic. Don’t take my word for it. Penn did not get an Oscar nod for that film that year, probably because he was too busy winning for Mystic River. del Toro and Watts, however, did get nods.
And del Toro was robbed, good as Tim Robbins also was in Mystic River.
I don’t know that I can say the same for Watts, who lost to Charlize Theron and her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. I will say–with all apologies to Meryl Streep–that Watts is the best actor of my lifetime, hands down. I’ve not always appreciated her choice of roles, but I can always say that she is a delight to watch. I’ve never seen a more natural actress inhabit the screen.
This is not a feel-good flick. It’s not a film that you can put on as background noise. It requires you to engage with it, to think. It makes you pay attention to the framing of every scene. It forces you to reckon with its conclusions.
So, if your favorite director is Michael Bay, run. If you, on the other hand, consider yourself a student of film, kick back and be prepared to experience a master at work.