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SEVEN POUNDS (2008) **** movie review by COOP

Posted on December 27th, 2008
Posted on December 27th, 2008


“Seven Pounds” isn’t the same feel good holiday movie like Will Smith’s previous melodrama “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Instead, he and “Happyness” director Gabriele Muccino deliver a dark, brooding think-piece that will probably divide critics and audiences alike. “Seven Pounds” qualifies as memorable cinema, even if no one considers it a great film.

Smith stars as Ben Thomas, a hopelessly devastated man harboring a deep secret. Armed with IRS credentials, he seeks out folks down on their luck in an attempt to find seven worthy people whom he can help. He becomes drawn to Emily (Rosario Dawson), a beautiful woman full of life despite her crippling congenital heart disorder. As the deadline for his goal approaches, things become complicated when Ben begins to fall in love with Emily.

As you can tell from the trailers, this film hides a shocking twist and it’s sure to throw many people for a loop. It’s easy to figure out why he is doing this from clues revealed early on in the story… but that’s not the big twist. Soon we see Ben has made some personal sacrifices for some deserving people, sacrifices that are surprising and even inspiring. The story unfolds in a non-linear way to hide Ben’s true intentions but, as the pieces slowly come together, Ben’s true intentions are revealed. The climax of the movie will cause a range of emotional reactions from audience members, some more than others.

Dawson steals the movie out from under Smith as the unfortunate, yet kind-hearted Emily. The scenes where she bonds with Ben keep the film from diving into complete pessimism. Her unwavering spirit injects hope into the hopeless Ben, causing him to reconsider his plans. I noted one or two scenes that could possibly qualify her for an Oscar nomination, but a poor reception of “Seven Pounds” could negate her chances. Regardless, she gives her finest performance here and should not be ignored.

Barry Pepper gets a small but compelling role as Dan, Ben’s lawyer and childhood friend. He is the only character who knows Ben’s plan and Ben guilt-trips Dan into helping him see it through. The massive burden almost drives Dan insane, making Pepper’s short performance noteworthy.

Smith performs well here, but let’s face it… His role here reeks of Oscar-baiting, a practice that often draws ire from critics and moviegoers. When A-list stars gets desperate for awards, they put themselves in a high-profile tearjerker and pour on the sap. Ben Stiller made fun of this practice in “Tropic Thunder” where his Oscar-bait character “Simple Jack” proved a career-ruining decision. Smith is no “Simple Jack” here, but it’s clear he’s trying too hard for a trophy and a pat on the back. He should take more chances and do some indie films like he did with “Six Degrees of Separation.” Once he dials it down a notch or two and shakes that desperation, then he may win.

The high-concept idea behind this story may seem gimmicky, but it’s like no gimmick I’ve ever seen. It involves a climax so outrageous, it’s easy to understand the negative reactions to it. There’s even a plot device involving a jellyfish that’s hard to swallow. Only a man with a superhuman will could follow through with what Ben accomplishes. It’s not realistic, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be. It provokes a strong emotional reaction which is what the filmmakers primarily intended.

I’ve yet to reconcile my feelings for the film long after leaving the theater. I know it’s important from a moral perspective, and it’s supposed to leave you with some sense of positive satisfaction, but at the same time it’s depressing. Maybe it’s calculated manipulation, but because of the inventive and controversial plot twist, I couldn’t help but allow it to move me. Perhaps it’s a fable designed to put people in a selfless spirit. Perhaps it’s only an exaggerated story about redemption. I can’t decide, but I can’t deny its effect. It’s too heavy for me to watch again, but if you’re up for a heavy heartbreaker, give this one a shot. Don’t forget a handkerchief.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This cheery trailer below doesn’t convey how upsetting the film really is. Believe its tone at your own risk…

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