Hollywood

A dark, morally murky pay-it-forward story.

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Seven Pounds is many things, but an easy movie it ain’t. Panned by the critics but financially successful, it’s one of these polarizing movies whose flaws and qualities tend to interfere with one another. The story, once told, raises a number of hairy ethical questions, which you’ll either see as morally repugnant or thought provoking.

Will Smith offers some decent acting here, but there’s just something missing from his brooding, restrained performance. He’s not quite there yet, even with the help of a strong Rosario Dawson in front of him. Still, I hope he keeps trying, because it’s pretty great to watch him play a non-smartass character from time to time.

 

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[do action=”moment” emo=”Intense” title=”Ben makes a harrowing 911 call.”/]

I’m not sure whether this scene is a cliché or an intriguing, harrowing one. It’s interesting to see Will Smith play a somber, more dramatic character, that’s for sure. I get the sense that Smith got this part because he wanted a shot at the Oscars, but I’m not so sure his acting is quite there yet.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Creative” title=”Woody Harrelson plays a mild-mannered, blind vegetarian.”/]

Speaking of being cast against type… Could they have chosen someone less fitting for this role? I mean, Harrelson kinda sorta pulls it off, but he sure ain’t a natural choice for this part. Mind, Harrelson is a raw vegan in real life, but it’s not like that’s part of what he usually projects on the big screen.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Interesting” title=”Will Smith is the kindest IRS auditor in the world.”/]

Now, this is the point where my opinion of this movie and that of the majority of critics diverge. Many have called the story confusing, and I can see why; we’re following the protagonist, Ben, pretty closely, but we have very little notion for most of the movie of what he is doing exactly. It’s a bit hard to follow, but it’s a good mystery; reminded me a bit of Delon’s Le samouraï in approach and structure. I’m intrigued.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Creepy” title=”Ben judges who can live or die.”/]

It became clear to me early on that Ben was doing much more than tax audits and payment reprieves. This is made abundantly clear when he has a chat with the old woman in the hospital. But we quickly come up to the movie’s first ethical conundrum: who is Ben Thomas that he can decide who should receive his “gift” or not? Sure, the movie paints the hospital administrator as a scumbag who cuts costs while riding a BMW, and who punishes his residents… But surely there is more to his life than this. Surely people are not black and white in real life.

Some critics have called this movie’s ethics repugnant; me, I’m just happy to have a movie that doesn’t pre-chew its ethics for me.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Cheesy” title=”Cute. Smart. Helpless. Emily is everything Ben is looking for.”/]

Rosario Dawson is a fine actress, but I find her character of Emily just too impossibly convenient. She’s too perfectly good for the sake of giving Ben something to latch unto in his quest. She’s hot, single, vegetarian, meek, and sick of the heart, and she’s so alone she actually calls up an IRS auditor when she’s feeling blue.

And sure enough, as soon as the characters get acquainted, this movie morphs into a more straightforward romance between the girl with the broken wing and the brooding man with a dark secret.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Laughable” title=”Barry Pepper is a terrible actor.”/]

They sure miscast the role of Dan, Ben’s childhood friend. They needed a grounded method actor to pull it off, and instead they get this scenery-chewing doofus whose idea of grief is to bury his face in his hands. Too bad, because the idea of a man who is so loyal to his childhood friend that he will help him kill himself despite the grief he feels is a powerful one. Pepper just can’t pull it off.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Annoying” title=”Emily sure walks around a lot for a girl on a heart transplant list.”/]

It’s just too convenient how Emily can do all the things a normal girl does, except she’s supposed to die in six weeks. She even goes on long walks in the Californian countryside. Outside of the time she ends up in the hospital, and that nurse who could have been written out of the movie entirely, we never see her deal with the immediate consequences of her illness.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Creepy” title=”Emily and Ben exchange creepy gifts.”/]

She put some clothes for him in a gift box and then orders him to change; and he broke into her shed the night before to fix her old machinery. They’re so creepy, they belong together for sure.

[do action=”moment” emo=”Facepalm” title=”‘I’m gonna give her a new heart; better break this one first.'”/]

Ethical conundrum number two: if you are planning to kill yourself to give a girl your heart, shouldn’t you resist her advances and, you know, not sleep with her? That’s way creepy, Ben. And speaking of sleeping together, isn’t Ben’s brother waiting in the car while this is going on?

[do action=”moment” emo=”Intense” title=”Ben puts himself on ice.”/]

And here we go, the film’s shocking final scene. Again, some critics have called the ethics of this twist repugnant. Really, though? I mean, I don’t agree with Ben’s choices, and he sure acts out of pure grief and pain. This is not a redemption, it’s a man’s desperate attempt to balance the horrible ledgers of lives lost and saved. I say, kudos to a movie that dares to go for morally ambiguous endings. There’s a sense of triumph to Ben’s final act, but the movie isn’t trying to romanticize the act (besides the cool “suicide-by-jellyfish” aspect). Does it romanticize suicide? Maybe, maybe not. It’s the lack of clear answer that I dig.

Seven Pounds (2008)

Will Smith's failed grab for an Oscar features a dark tale of grief that raises a metric ton of ethical questions. Many critics have panned the story's moral morass and confusing first act, but if you're willing to watch a movie that's not as linear or morally black and white as your usual Hollywood fare, you're in for a movie that will make you think for a while.

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