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21 Grams Reviews

There's not much more to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's stylish follow-up to AMORES PERROS than what meets the eye. In fact, once the film's fractured, tripartite storyline falls into place, there's considerably less. Whatever the case, Gonzalez Inarritu can spin a good, pulpy yarn, and you're not likely to see three better lead performances in a single movie anytime soon. Told in a complex series of flashbacks, flashforwards and present-day sequences, Inarritu's kaleidoscopic script follows three initially unrelated characters as they hurtle towards a fateful meeting in a Phoenix motel room. Paul Rivers (Sean Penn) is a college professor with a bum ticker, and if he doesn't receive a new heart soon, he'll be dead within a few months. Paul's estranged wife, Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), has returned to take care of him, but her mercy masks an ulterior motive: Mary desperately wants to become pregnant with Paul's child before he dies. Cristina (Naomi Watts), meanwhile, is a happily married mother of two who's put her party-hearty days behind her in exchange for a life of suburban comfort with her architect husband, Michael (Danny Huston), and their young daughters (Carly Nahon, Claire Pakis). Her life seems perfect, but Cristina's blissfully unaware of how easily it can all disappear in a single moment. Living in an entirely different world is Jack (Benicio Del Toro), a married ex-con who, like Cristina, also has a past he'd like to forget. Jack's been in and out of jail since he was 16, but now he's found that Jesus really does save; when he's not caddying at the country club, Jack spends his free time down at his church helping troubled kids. Paul, Cristina, Jack: Three complete strangers whose lives are irrevocably altered by a terrible accident that puts paid to Jack's belief that just as Jesus gives, he also taketh away, and often without mercy. Del Toro and Penn are both excellent, and Watts gives another demonstration of her startling emotional range that rivals her revelatory turn in MULHOLLAND DR. But as in AMORES PERROS, the real star is once again the audacious Gonzalez Inarritu. Given just how many balls he keeps in the air at once, it's amazing that the story coheres at all; his control of his material is simply masterful. But aside from a little eleventh-hour pseudo-mysticism about death and the weight of the soul, the story is really little more than an unusually gripping thriller. The tragically overlooked English shocker HEART (1999) actually had more to say on the subject while getting straight to the heart of the matter.