The writer and director of international hit Amores Perros make an emotionally weighty English-language debut with another tale of love, loss, despair and redemption. Oscar nominees Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts play, respectively, a religiously obsessed ex-criminal and the contented mother-of-two whose life he crashes into. Sean Penn is the gravely ill academic who completes their tragically fated human triangle. Sombre but utterly absorbing.
Alejandro González Iñárritu
Benicio Del Toro
The disparate threads of director Alejando Gonzalez Iñárritu's memorable Mexican drama Amores Perros were linked by a road accident.
In 21 Grams, his writer Guillermo Arriaga uses the same device to bring together the three protagonists of a sombre but equally compelling companion piece.
Iñárritu introduces his characters rather disconcertingly, flitting between events that occur at various points before and after the tragedy.
This approach takes a short while to get used to, but the film's rhythm is easy to pick up by tuning into the terrific performances.
Penn plays Paul, a heart patient being nursed by his English wife (Gainsbourg) while desperately awaiting a transplant.
Jack (Del Toro) is an ex-con whose dedication to God puts tremendous pressure on his family, whereas former wild child Cristina (Watts) owes her personal salvation to her loving husband and daughters.
Fate intervenes and their destinies collide. Since the drama unfolds from the earliest scenes, further elaboration is unnecessary.
Taken singly, each performance would be a stand-out. Together, they are simply outstanding (though the irritating Gainsbourg is something of a duff note).
Working within an intriguing narrative structure, the actors ensure that the audience's attention never wavers.
Unlikely to raise many smiles, then, but a powerful and expertly told story that deserves all the plaudits it gets.