21 Grams

Cast: Sean Penn, Benecio Del Toro, Naomi Watts and Charlotte Gainsbourg; Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu; Screenplay: Guillermo Arriaga; Music: Gustavo Santaolalla


People close to me know of my not-so-secret partisan towards Latin American directors. Not just their choice of stories, I even like their camera angles, music or the lack of it, blatant and ugly realism, etc. I mean, they can even show US landscapes as shabby and urbane as noisy. I look at all of it and wonder when I will ever make movie like this. I saw their Motorcycle Diaries and thought that this is how we should have made Bharati.

So when, Alejandro González Iñárritu of Amorres Perros decided to make a Hollywood movie, I flinched. I thought he was contaminating himself.

21 Grams is not a Hollywood movie. It is a Latin American movie made in Hollywood. It has a typical characteristic of narrating a story in an unchronological fashion. The first scene you see is not the first event of the story. You take almost 20 minutes into the movie to understand all the characters and their conflicts. Then suddenly the story zooms up and everything falls in place. But the movie continues to oscillate between past and present.

The zigzag narration helped in Iñárritu’s earlier movie, Amorres Perros. Those who have not seen it, Yuva or Ayudha Ezhuthu is based on the same screenplay format. In Amorres Perros, the story ‘had’ to traverse between time to make the connection and make sense.

In 21 Grams, it actually spoils the effect to a great extent. As one my friends put it, it feels like Iñárritu has edited the whole movie, retained the start and the ending and shuffled everything in between. It gets annoying after a point because, as mentioned earlier, the story does not require such a technique.

Image sourced from: http://www.creativescreenwriting.com

But what makes you forgive this disturbance is the rest of everything. The story is disturbingly powerful, which -as is my practice- I shall not reveal here. The performances of Sean Penn, Benecio Del Toro and Naomi Watts are outstanding and especially of Benecio Del Toro. After a gruesome incident, which is the critical point of the movie, Del Toro has shown the transformation of a highly disturbed man with almost unbearable conscience.

The background score of Latin American movies have always been my favourites. They are almost non-existing. They slowly crop up at right moments and dissipate quietly. They are merely fillers for the long, silence moments. To me, cinema is a visual medium and music should not ‘explain’ the story or ’emote’ for the characters. In real life, we are surrounded by sounds and not music. But, some moments, a mood triggers music within us. Like riding your cruiser on an empty beach road at 11.00 in the night. Your heart composes music for that ride. Such a scene, on a sliver screen would be very empty without music. Iñárritu certainly knows those moments and fills them with appropriate notes. Otherwise, he lets the characters create the mood for you.

And it’s not just about the mood. 21 Grams makes you ask a lot of questions, and they are very important. Despite that dramatic, almost forced climax, I found myself toying with those questions even after the credits finished rolling. But that grim, heavy feeling took couple more hours to go.