I didn’t really know what to expect going into 21 Grams. I’ve heard a lot of really good things about it and I have seen and enjoyed Babel, another film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Still, I didn’t know what the story or execution of 21 Grams was going to be like, so I was really going in blind. What I got was more than surprising. It was an exceptional piece of art that deserves the highest amount of praises, and while it may not be a new favorite, I can say that it was one of the most well put together and executed films that I have ever seen.
The story focuses on the intersecting lives of three characters. Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro) is an ex-con who is trying to turn his life around by teaching the word of God to people who need it most. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is a loving wife and mother with a disturbing past. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a mathematician who is slowly dying of heart failure and in need of a new one for a transplant. One night, Jack is involved in a hit and run accident with the family of Cristina, who now has lost everything, but Jack has gained a new heart out of it and is trying to connect with the person who saved his life. As the lives of these three people come closer together, a more volatile mixture of love, hate, and revenge begins to brew.
The best way to describe what I was feeling within the first 15 minutes of this movie would be confusion. I was completely lost until I realized that 21 Grams is told completely out of order. It seemed like the editor was someone with terrible ADHD that was just clicking on random scenes and pasting them together. If you thought Pulp Fiction was jumbled, check this one out. It took a little while to get used to, but once I found the style, it made piecing together these different puzzle pieces all the more fun. Almost as if I was only given the pieces, but didn’t see the full picture beforehand. It’s an interesting way to tell the story.
I don’t think there’s really a specific need for the story to be told this way, but I’m really glad that it is. I’ve heard reviewers say that this disjointed narrative pulls you away from the characters and makes you feel like they aren’t as three dimensional as they could have been if the story was told in a more traditional way. I completely disagree. I felt very close to the characters and really was concerned for what the outcome would be for them. Also, if you really break this movie down, it is a plain and simple melodrama. Hearts being transplanted, ex cons finding Jesus, and a love being described as taboo would be the understatement of the century. This disjointed narrative keeps things interesting. Rather than just watching things play out, I had to piece things together, which made me pay a lot more attention than I probably would have.
Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of movies where I need to rave about the acting, the past two being Prisoners and American Hustle, and now the streak continues with 21 Grams. Everyone in this movie is really incredible. Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn carry the film all through its jumbled plot with ease and made me really believe in these characters. Naomi Watts, especially, gives 110%. Even the supporting cast is great. Melissa Leo and Charlotte Gainsbourg, while they are minor roles, help carry the movie and support the main players.
21 Grams is a fascinating movie that hooked me with its performances, characters, and direction with special detail given to the editing. While Babel was a really good movie, it isn’t as memorable as 21 Grams. The story that Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga have created is deeply moving and thought provoking in a way that can truly change people. It’s rare that a movie can really make me think as much as 21 Grams, and because of that it is one of a kind.