Pounding It In

by Ian T. McFarland on December 19, 2008

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Seven Pounds
  • IMDB: link

On top of director Gabriele Muccino‘s English-language debut, The Pursuit of Happyness, the Italian filmmaker has shown a strength for heart-gushing material with his newest film, Seven Pounds.  As a filmmaker, that he can make movie capable of affecting the audience without pulling any cheap tricks is perhaps the strongest quality any director could hope for; but Seven Pounds proves that too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.

It’s not easy to summarize the plot of Seven Pounds, due to a well-executed story line that feeds you bit by bit of information until you finally discover the motive for the subject of this character study, Will Smith‘s Ben Thomas.  From the beginning, all we can tell is that Thomas is an IRS auditor who is using his power to help people in ways that only he is willing to help them.

Seven Pounds is bolstered by its considerably strong screenplay.  Clearly and purposefully, first timer Grant Nieporte has written an exploration of a man driven by an event that doesn’t have to be revealed until the film’s end.  That this man’s only writing experience has come out of family sitcoms is more than surprising.

Unfortunately, Nieporte’s work is often overly-sentimentalized throughout the film.  The final product comes off almost like hero-worship.  Although the main character was always intended to be a very good person,  Muccino makes the experience too easy for the audience, always reminding us how great Smith’s character is.  This flaw is especially evident in the film’s last scene, a scene that does not affect the story and its outcome in the slightest.  It’s just in there to make us all feel warm and cuddly about the protagonist and the ending

The other major problem is Smith himself.  The Hollywood heavy-weight’s not a bad actor – and indeed, he does what he can with the role of Ben Thomas; it’s just that the actor is miscast.  Ben shouldn’t be so easy-to-impress, so easy to trust – he’s a conflicted man that is proven good only through his actions.  And yet he’s far too haunted by a past event to be charming – wrecked by its impact, he shouldn’t even be likable until one get’s to know him well.  That’s an impossibly tall order for Smith who, despite hosting some acting chops, may not ever be able to get past his public persona of a super-nice, super-funny hunk of a guy.  They might just have well have cast Justin Timberlake for the role (on second thought, if he could do for Seven Pounds what he did for Black Snake Moan, well. . .).

With Smith in the role, the film feels like an inspirational fluff movie.  Were a more difficult to like actor like Benicio del Toro or Ryan Gosling, the film would have a much more interesting dynamic that forces the viewer to ask a question.  But, simply put, we trust Smith.  We know he’s going to do the right thing; and if he’s a little confused or awkward, we’re confident that he’ll find his way by the time the credits hit.

But there’s not too much room for complaint; because by most measures, Seven Pounds is well made.  The strong story carries through the production, with a cast and crew that are doing a fine if not fantastic job.  Even the tone which, complain as I might, could have been far cheesier were it produced by anyone else in Hollywood.

It’s not difficult to be hard on Seven Pounds, but it’s a criticism that is especially empowered because it’s very close to being a very good film.  Were it able to take a more straight-forward handle on its story, it would be a film worth remembering.  As is, it’s worth watching; but it feels incomplete.

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