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Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is ill, desperately waiting for someone to die who is a suitable heart donor, while his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is waiting for a chance to have a baby, but it seems it won't happen naturally. Nor is their relationship likely to last. Cristina Peck (Naomi Watts) is convulsed and traumatised by the accidental death of her husband and two little daughters in a hit and run, with driver Jack (Benicio del Toro) mortified and guilt ridden about the event. Despite his wife's (Melissa Leo) pleas, Jack wants to give himself up.

Review by Louise Keller:
A startling film about life, death and love, 21 Grams is an engrossing melee of non-linear, seemingly dislocated scenes that impact like an explosion when the pieces of jigsaw puzzle begin to fit. From director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) comes this profoundly intimate story about three different lives that unexpectedly impact on each other.

Shot with urgency by a hand-held camera that takes us not only en situ, but also into the soul of the characters, this is a film that requires (and deserves) concentration and patience, while the story unravels. Conscience, faith, love, hate, revenge, redemption - a heady, powerful mix indeed, and delivered by three remarkable performances.

A couple in bed; girl in a support group; man preaching his faith; man in 'death's waiting room'; girl snorting coke; woman in doctor's surgery exploring artificial insemination; man greeting his family. The opening scenes are short and potent. We slowly get a sense of the rhythm of the ensuing drama, as we begin to understand little by little, something about the lives that the three different story strands bring.

This is a film of performances and Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro are all magnificent. Performances that bring us to tears, move, shock, enthral, disturb, amaze us. Penn effuses melancholy; it is impossible not to be touched by his forthright, flawed Paul who is given a second chance, but becomes obsessed to make his own peace.

Intuitive, subtle and downright brilliant, Penn is the emotional pivot towards which we gravitate. Del Toro's Jack uses his newly discovered faith to rationalise everything in his life. 'God even knows when a single hair moves on your head,' he tells a would-be reformer. But he soon discovers that 'hell is in his head', as he struggles with his conscience and moral duty. Watts unleashes raw angst and emotional pain as a young wife and mother experiencing devastating loss. We feel her hurting and it is affecting. And together, the impact of the emotions canvassed, are profound.

21 Grams is a film to ponder. While the title questions the 21 grams lost at time of death, there is much that explores life and the reasons for living. Lingering and provocative, this is a film that digs deep and hard. You may scratch your fingernail polish while you're digging, but it's worth it.

DVD special features comprise theatrical trailer and documentary.

Published August 5, 2004

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CAST: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Danny Huston, Clea DuVall

DIRECTOR: Alejandro González Iñárritu

SCRIPT: Guillermo Arriaga

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer, a profile of 21 Grams, director and cast biographies: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts, subtitles for the hearing impaired.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 5, 2004

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