Seven Pounds (2008)
Directed by Gabriele Muccino
Written by Grant Nieporte
Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson and Michael Ealy
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality
Story: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent with a nasty secret in his past. And in an attempt to atone for his sins, he has begun tracking down seven individuals whose situations he could drastically change. But along the way he meets a beautiful woman named Emily (Rosario Dawson), who might also change him in return.
Review: As so many of my fellow reviewers have found out over the past few weeks, it is hard to write a review of Seven Pounds without running the risk of spoiling the ending. It is by all measures a difficult film to describe without giving away the juiciest parts of its incredibly unique story. So here’s what I can tell you, without being too much of a spoiler. Will Smith plays a man who is mysteriously stalking various individuals, all with their own sad situations. One woman has a potentially fatal heart condition, another man (Woody Harrelson) is a blind telemarketer, and another is a poor woman with an abusive boyfriend and two young children. All of these folks have two things in common: they’re all decent people with bad circumstances and they’ve all come into the view of Ben, the IRS agent with a heart.
What ensues is a story that is most certainly unique, in many ways disturbing and so aggressively saddening that even Will Smith can’t keep from crying through the entire thing. And as you might imagine, Smith goes for gold by playing up the sadness and laying on the melodrama with the thickness. And therein lies the film’s first of many problems, the performance of Will Smith gives the character of Ben a sulky, almost lackadaisical nature. Instead of making us sad because of his past and his even more glum future, the performance is just plain sad. It is disheartening to see a great actor such as Smith overact in the interest of tugging on some heart strings. The story is moving enough as it is, it did not need a hyper-melodramatic performance from its leading man to push it along.
On performance that does tug on all the right heart strings though, is that of the alluring Rosario Dawson. Quiet, broken and yet so full of yearning for life, Emily is the one bit of heart and soul in this film. And in bringing Emily to life, Dawson gives what can easily be described as a career best performance. She is the subtle balance to Smith’s sap-session, lighting the film up every time she unleashes her infectious smile. Through her performance, we cannot help but to connect with Emily’s pain as she struggles with near-terminal heart failure and celebrate those quiet, happy moments she shares as she begins to fall for the mysterious Ben.
Unfortunately, Dawson’s fantastic performance isn’t enough to save this movie from itself. And perhaps its greatest pitfall is its ending, one that is easily discovered by the attentive moviegoer roughly 30 minutes into the film. Somewhere around the closing of act one, many of you might discover the path upon which Ben as set himself. And sadly for you, it takes an excruciating 90 more minutes or so for the payoff — another painful hour and a half of melodramatic moments piled upon melodramatic moments in order for you to finally see what you already know is going to happen. To say the least this film, much like director Gabriele Muccino’s prior work on The Pursuit of Happyness, has some serious pacing issues. To top it all off, the ending, while affecting, does get a little ridiculous. Let’s just say that this film’s great lesson, in the end, might be a noble one. But the way it gets to that big final message is a sordid affair of bizarre and unnecessary actions performed by its central character.
In the end, the best I can do to put this film into context is to say that it feels like a missed opportunity. We have a really unique story that is meant to be uplifting that gets buried in its own silliness and an over-cooked performance from its headlining star. It makes for a film that is by no means terrible, just frustrating to watch. A film that tries so hard to empty the tear ducts, yet leaves us puzzled. My only solution to said puzzle, for those of you on the fence about the latest Will Smith vehicle, is to wait for the DVD. Otherwise you might find yourself regretting the choice to see Seven Pounds, as it just doesn’t play out the way it should in the end.