Screenwriter: Grant Nieporte
Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Barry Pepper
Running Time: 125 mins
Will Smith's first collaboration with Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino brought him an Oscar nomination and the best reviews of his career in 2006's The Pursuit Of Happyness. Something must have gone drastically wrong in the three years since, because their renuion for Seven Pounds is an overwrought, improbable drama that's as frustrating as it is morbid. The tale casts Smith as IRS man Ben Thomas who, in the opening scene, is sobbing into the telephone informing emergency services that he is about to commit suicide. The action then cuts back to an earlier time to unravel the mystery of why Ben is going to off himself.
Director Muccino seems more interested in Smith the actor than Smith the movie star, and he steers his leading man through an emotional grinder in Seven Pounds' arduous 125 minutes. Initially, Ben is a character with unclear motivations. An early scene sees him taunt blind call centre worker Ezra (Harrelson) unprovoked. Later, he helps an old lady being mistreated at a nursing home then assaults the institution's cruel administrator for his negligence. It soon becomes apparent that Ben's aloof behaviour is down to his desire to atone for a past wrong, with his search for redemption taking the form of testing others to see if they are worthy of help.
Ben's altruism presents Smith with a challenge that he can't quite overcome. Casting him in this role is a bizarre choice considering that the filmmakers choose to paint the character as a man with zen-like calm (he's similar to Jeff Bridges's Max Klein in Fearless) but none of the charisma that Smith is renowned for. His character's desire to do good makes him a touch bland, while writer Nieporte's efforts to conceal so much about what's driving Ben comes across as a lazy excuse for his weird behaviour.
The introduction of Rosario Dawson's Emily, a cardiac patient in urgent need of a transplant, livens up the movie and gives Smith an able sparring partner. Despite Ben's efforts to remain objective in judging if she needs his help, he cuts straight to her heart and they embark on a slow-burning romance. There are faint flickers of hope for the movie when the pair are together as she probes to find out more about the enigmatic protagonist. "I don't know anything about you or where you came from, but I'm glad," she proclaims at one point. Emily's delight may not be mirrored by all, as Muccino's elegant direction is hampered by a script that is evasive and vague until the final act.
Landing in awards season, Seven Pounds is the worst kind of Oscar-bait drama - one that's consciously attempting to levitate the viewer with telegraphed emotional punches, obvious soundtrack choices (watch out for Muse's 'Feeling Good' when Ben is, you guessed it, feeling good) and a predictable, daft and way-too-literal conclusion to the central relationship.
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