Two years ago, director Gabriele Muccino collaborated with Will Smith successfully in their year end offering of The Pursuit of Happyness, which while based on the struggles of real life struggler made good Chris Gardner, had a saccharine sweet and triumphant ending befitting of the end of year mood of putting the last year behind you, and looking forward to a better tomorrow. This time round however, the Muccino-Smith partnership has brought about a sustained doom, gloom and heaviness throughout the film that perhaps accurately mirrors current sentiments of the downturn that doesn’t look to go anywhere upwards next year as well.
If you want to know absolutely nothing about the film, then I would suggest you skip right to the last paragraph. Otherwise, here goes:
There’s nary a light-hearted moment in the film, and it begins in what would be uncharacteristic of Smith to be barraging down on a visually handicapped person (Woody Harrelson in a very subdued, supporting role), insulting him and calling him names. In fact, you’re more than likely to feel kind of angry with Smith’s Ben Thomas, an IRS tax man who continues his verbal assault over the telephone on a stranger whom he doesn’t know, yet.
You see, it’s all a test of character. Ben Thomas is a man on a mission, and while the filmmakers would like you to think that his ultimate aim was something still kept under wraps, it doesn’t take long before you decipher just what he’s up to, given a clue right from the start of the film that he intends to take his own life, and little hints dropped every now and then. Ben wants to help seven people before his demise, and just how he’s going about doing so, is the subject of almost two hours in the film.
The plot brews rather slowly, and curiously, doesn’t bore even as it doesn’t keep you guessing for long. It holds out the real reason and verbatim rationale why he’s doing what he’s doing, though cynics in us might deem it as an extreme case of seeking redemption. But thankfully, we got Will Smith’s acting ability to keep our attention arrested, because he has shown that he’s as adept to big budgeted action blockbusters, as he is with strong drama dealing with human emotions. While you may question Ben’s technique, you cannot deny that here’s a man that’s set in his ways that even best friend Dan (Barry Pepper) could do nothing to change his course, and only to respect his wishes to carry everything through when the time calls for it.
And central to this story, is the relationship between Ben and Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a woman who’s dished out a death sentence that could happen at any time because of an impending heart failure. It is this story-arc that takes up the bulk of the screen time, and the other benefactors from Ben’s magnanimous benevolence only became side shows, with 2 of them just lip service, which was a disappointment because they were relegated to copping out (or the lack of screen opportunities). But it is this love story that could and yet couldn’t be, that was achingly heart-wrenching to watch.
At first I had dismissed this as yet another star-crossed lovers type of story that Fate had a hand in, but this relationship grows on you, and while it looked like an eventual 21 Grams, the chemistry between Dawson and Smith brought out the best in what could have become some really bad melodrama. I guess I always enjoy stories about sacrifices, and what more about the sacrifice that has to happen, as portrayed in the story, that makes it heartbreaking to bear witness to.
Seven Pounds might turn away those looking for some fantastical, escapist storyline to take their minds off temporarily from current troubles, but for Will Smith fans, and those looking for something that doesn’t choose to wince away from what it had set out to do, then this might be the film for you this New Year period. It might not have plenty to offer, but for powerful performances, then look no further than this piece.