Release Date: December 19, 2008
Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper, Michael Ealy
By Sean Chavel
"Seven Pounds" was not screened for the majority of the nation’s critics prior to release, nor did the studio want the film’s secret to get out in reviews. Usually this is done just to shroud a bad film from profuse unflattering media discussion. On a rare occasion, I decided to go pay for a movie to see what’s up. I got treated to ten minutes of non-movie related commercials in particularly a protracted commercial, edited and scored to the vibe of a music video, to join the National Guard. Now I understand some of the public’s apprehension of going to the movies and preferring to check out flicks on home video.
The movie: The not-so-bad “Seven Pounds” does have a secret that it keeps dancing around, not revealing its lead character’s motivations for perhaps an hour. Will Smith, as IRS agent Ben Thomas, ingratiates the most unlikely of people. The only thing for certain, as in the opening scene at least eludes, is that he is planning on killing himself. He sends out a 911 call to his own suicide.
Ben doesn’t create much sympathy for himself in an early scene when he starts harassing a blind phone operator at a meat company, being heartless and cruel to him. Woody Harrelson, in Woody Boyd mode, is the blind man. Doesn’t make sense (at first) why Ben would behave in such a way when subsequently he seeks out ways to help others. Ben is a 24 hour benefactor in service to worthy good souls in Southern California, and it does appear that the blind phone operator would be a good man deserving of good treatment.
A poor Hispanic woman (Elpidia Carrillo) is in need to escape from her abusive boyfriend with her kids. No late taxes, just a mother in duress. An old folks home sees elderly abuses from an uncaring staff. Then there is Rosario Dawson, as Emily Posa, is the beautiful girl with the heart problem. One of those beauties you just can’t help but get involved with. Ben helps out Emily with her back taxes and then helps pull out the weeds from her backyard. I think he has a good time finding chores around Emily’s house.
Herein, the movie shifts gears from its intended destination to become a tender romance. Ben and the film both get distracted. But Emily, on a life extension from God (she needs a heart transplant from a specific blood donor type) is the only one that pries open Thomas to reveal the wounds that he doesn’t share with anybody. Emily acts as Ben’s therapist and the film’s therapist as well. Thankfully she’s beautiful too. I mean, she is played by Rosario Dawson who is even prettier in a sundress.
I don’t want to tell the secret of the film exactly, although that’s probably what some readers want to know so they don’t have to bother seeing the movie. The nagging plot secret you want to know just so you can get on with life. Other reviews have spilled the secret that the studio didn’t want you to know. (Spoiler Alert) So at the risk of not telling enough, I will now give a scant clue. By the end of the first act mark, Thomas looks deep and hard into an old newspaper clipping that he has saved overtime that reveals seven people lost their lives in a freak automobile accident. I’ll leave it to you to figure out from here what Thomas could possibly do with any of it. From there, it starts to make sense why giving is a prominent priority and that his own personal materials no longer matter to him.
Now for Will Smith, this was a courageous (if misguided) project to undertake. His performance is admirable. He implodes his emotions instead of letting his steam blow. Smith doesn’t project his burdens onto anyone but himself – that’s good acting. Barry Pepper, as the best friend on the other hand, easily gives the worst performance – I chuckled every time he huffed and puffed, and every time he would look left then look right instead of talking head-on with others.
This film is consumed in shame and despair. It is primarily a character piece, and so we need to find redemption for its troubled protagonist. The problem is, for a movie like this to work, in needs a certain restrained and precise visual strategy in order the film to elevate artistically. The film’s director is Gabriele Muccino who directed Smith in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” The film has a crisp look but not a particular visual pattern to hold it all together. One false move and the integrity of the script’s intentions tumble away, for which here they do. I guess directors like David Cronenberg and Darren Aronofsky – artists attuned with a vision – were busy on other projects.
Lastly, if the film is going to find redemptive power by going sacrificial with its main character then we sit there wondering if it’s going to have the guts to go all the way. The suspense becomes whether the filmmakers are going to cop out or not. To my liking, the film didn’t entirely cop out and even finds a coup in regret. I left the theater feeling that “Seven Pounds” was at least an interesting failure.