English / Movie Review / Short Take

21 Grams (2003)

Cinematic Redemption for the Soul


Watts - On The Brink of Redemption

Life is a mystery that reveals itself only when essential. So does death. And so does 21 Grams. Three parallel narratives of three self-condemned lives; one non-linear screenplay outlined in one pendulous to-and-fro editing style.

The net effect: one pleasantly discomforted audience.

Like the story’s tumultuous nature, director Alejandro González’s 21 Grams shakes your soul and stirs it too — all the way to redemption. Its incoherent, yet completely justified, structure seemingly confuses at first, but slowly the pieces fall in place solving the puzzle of life thus enlightening both the characters and the audience in the process.

Love, hate, revenge, death, and redemption drive the lives of Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro. One fateful incident intertwines their lives, simultaneously delivering them to the brink of self-destruction and redemption. Nonchalantly starting its cinematic soul-searching journey with random introductions to these characters at random intervals in the story’s time-line, 21 Grams rewards you with a catharsis for the ordeal of sitting through this disjointed structure.

An unsaid, and sometimes said, bond connects the characters. A mere silent glance; a silent meditation of thoughts; or a silent desire to die. All this is mutely captured by the performances, cinematography and a blank background score with passionate perfection. Watts’ tears leave you moist eyed, Penn’s pain can move a stone, and Del Toro’s self-condemnation make you alternatively pity and loathe him. Sooner or later, you find your ’self’ empathizing with the trials, tribulations and emotional turmoils faced by the characters.

Ultimately, moving performances augment González’s unorthodox style of non-linear storytelling to transcend the boundaries of gimmick-editing, driving home the point that: akin to this movie, the roller-coaster ride called life too has an uncanny art of disclosing the naked truth only when the time is ripe, irrespective of when, how and for whatsoever reason one is thrown in to a life-changing situation. And instead of confusing you, this screenplay slowly opens up new doors of perception as it progresses, adding hitherto unknown dimensions to both the characters and the story, unraveling one layer after another, finally culminating into a bizarre, yet profound climax that leaves us pondering about life, death, relationships and the deep rooted desire of mankind to desperately seek redemption in this lifetime.

Watch it. Before you die.

4 thoughts on “21 Grams (2003)

  1. Excellent review! This is one of Watts’ best performances (and rightfully snagged her the only Oscar nomination she has received to date) and is this director’s best film. This was one of my top films from the decade. You captured it beautifully here.

    I love your last lines:

    “Watch it. Before you die.”

  2. Thank you David!

    Let me thank you once again for recommending this movie. I was utterly disappointed with Babel and had made up my mind that 21 Grams would be none the better. And forgot all about it. That’s when I saw your list and was re-inspired to watch it. And what a beautiful combination of story-telling and new-wave film-making. I was too moved by the movie to not review it.

    Watts was excellent as always. I wonder why she never received an Oscar. I loved her in Mullholland Drive too, sadly that didn’t even get her a nomination.

  3. I’m glad you took a chance on it! It really is “night and day” when compared to the far less engaging and arduous BABEL.

    Yes, Watts has been snubbed one too many times. She also should’ve been nominated for KING KONG and THE PAINTED VEIL.

  4. Pingback: Biutiful (2011) « Talking Talkies

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