January 28, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 65  

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21 Grams disturbs with vehicular manslaughter, drug abuse

21 Grams
Starring: Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, Naomi Watts
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu

By Arthur Thuot
Gazette Staff

Stoners beware: 21 Grams is not what you think. There are no pot jokes or intoxicated antics, and only minimal episodes of hilarious debauchery.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu tells a complex tale of three characters brought together by a bizarre series of events. Paul (Penn) is a terminally ill mathematics professor in dire need of a heart transplant. As luck would have it, ex-convict turned Bible-banging, born-again Christian Jack (Del Toro) drives his ironically named “Jesus Saves” truck into Cristina’s (Watts) husband and two young children, killing them. Praise the Lord: Paul’s heart troubles are solved!

Paul undergoes transplant surgery using Cristina’s newly deceased husband’s heart, and besides the whole vehicular manslaughter inconvenience, everything is hunky dory. That is, until Paul’s doctor refuses to divulge the identity of the donor, compelling him to dig deeper and find out whose heart he received. Things get freaky at this point in the movie.

Paul hires a private investigator to research the organ donor’s history. Armed with the necessary information, Paul tracks down Cristina, going against the commonly held Miss Manners rule of etiquette stipulating a two-month, post-surgery buffer zone.

One thing leads to another and before you know it they’ve met, become friends and then quite a bit more than friends. It is slightly disconcerting to see a woman having sexual intercourse with a man who is the recipient of her dead husband’s heart.

When 21 Grams isn’t directly involved with the wacky adventures of Paul and Cristina, it presents many related stories. Jack spends a few years in jail and questions his faith in God; Paul deals with his artificial insemination-happy girlfriend Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and after many years of sobriety, Cristina rediscovers the joys of drug abuse. All of these parallel plots are woven together exceptionally well for a film assembled in an initially confusing way.

21 Grams is shot in a non-linear style, which means the scenes are mainly out of order. It helps to pay attention at the start when the scenes are brief and completely out of sequence, but despite the complex and unorthodox delivery, the story is surprisingly easy to follow. Furthermore, the excellent performances by Penn, Del Toro and Watts make following the story an effort worth taking.

Fans of an unconventional plot and solid acting will be pleased with 21 Grams, and fans of Watts and her gigantic rock hard nipples will leave the theatre smiling, possibly with a boner.



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