Friday, December 19, 2008

"Seven Pounds" teases it out

It's rare to see a movie with as much patience as "Seven Pounds." It'll be interesting to see if audiences are willing to wait around as long as the filmmakers.

Will Smith, who I think can make a movie where he does nothing but read classified ads and still get a $30 million opening, plays a mystery man named Ben Thomas. He's an IRS agent who goes around auditing people, but he's much more sensitive and emotional than a nondescript fed. For example, when he discovers that the head of a nursing home isn't treating his elderly charges well, Ben becomes upset and berates the manager, and refuses to grant the extension he'd been asking for.

Oh, one other thing: all of the people Ben deals with have some kind of dire medical problem.

It's a strange, though ultimately endearing performance by Smith. With his dorky bureaucrat haircut and nondescript suit, Ben is polite and kind of shy, flashing a mysterious smile when anyone tries to corner him with questions about himself. Flashbacks indicate there's some kind of tragedy that happened in Ben's life, but we're not sure what.

One of the people he meets is Emily, who's waiting on a heart transplant. She's played by Rosario Dawson in a moving breakout performance. She clings to Ben, calling him when she ends up in the hospital, and it's clear she's trying to get him to fall for her. Yet there's never anything sad or pathetic about what she's doing. You get the sense this is how Emily would pursue a guy even if she wasn't on the brink of death. I loved the scene where she tells Ben that before her heart grew weak, she was "un-auditably hot." This is an Oscar-worthy turn.

Director Gabriele Muccino and screenwriter Grant Nieporte take their time teasing out the final mystery, although on-the-ball audience members should probably figure it out beforehand. Even for those who do, the emotional high point is worth the wait, as the movie builds and builds and builds to its fateful ending.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title, it's never overtly explained in the movie, although you'll probably understand the reference after it's over.

Three stars out of four.

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