Review: Will Smith turns in strong performance in melodrama "Seven Pounds"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Will Smith's performance in "Seven Pounds" is worth the price of your ticket. He has the ability to play to the moment, to project a realness of emotion so many actors reach for but never grasp. You believe he's that guy up on the screen.

You believe he's that young hotshot cop in "Men In Black." You believe he's scared to death hunting the night people in "I Am Legend." He's the true Everyman. He's completely adaptable. He's completely believable as an out-of-work father, an IRS agent, a superhero; he has the ability to take us where he wants us to go. He's mastered the craft and continually creates cinematic art.

But now comes "Seven Pounds," which is an interesting choice for Smith. His run of megahits over the last few years would seem to dictate a more "high concept" choice. "Seven Pounds" is likely to make it's money back at the box office, but audiences expecting gunplay and million dollar action sequences will be sorely disappointed. This story is somber, overtly dramatic and at times a melodramatic weeper.

The story begins with a flash forward — though you might argue the story begins in real time and the rest of the film is a flashback. Either way, the first 20 minutes are difficult to decipher. You're never really sure if the story is happening in chronological order; you know there is a troubling past event, that he's planning to help others who are in desperate need of help. His cryptic conversations with friends and relatives clue the audience in that a period of time has passed since the troubling event, but that's all we get. Eventually, by the middle of the second act, you do start gain traction with the plot — though you're still not sure why he's doing what he's doing.

For those who aren't sure of the meaning of the title, which is never explained in the film, it's loosely based on Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice." Shylock loans 3,000 ducats to the title character and demands the money be repaid on time or he will take a pound of flesh. So to help you in your code breaking, "Seven Pounds" "of flesh" is what Smith's character feels he owes. I've said enough.

The plot thickens when Smith meets Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson). Though she is picked based on her medical condition, Smith begins to fall for her, and she for him. She needs someone who cares, and he needs someone to bring him back to emotional life. But the events of Smith's elaborate scheme are too far advanced and the inevitable conclusion must go ahead.

Does the plot sound a little vague? Are you somewhat confused? With an emotional drama like this the plot usually must stay hidden to keep you in your seats. It's usually about the journey to the film's climax that's the interesting part. It is in "Seven Pounds."

Director Gabriele Muccino ("Pursuit of Happyness") might not have the best process for choosing stories — he seems really into melodramas — but he seems to be able to pull great performances out of actors. "Seven Pounds" reminds me of a comment about the film "Kramer vs. Kramer." Without Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, "Kramer vs. Kramer" would have been a soapy TV movie of the week. The same applies to "Seven Pounds." I guess there's a reason Will Smith gets the big bucks.

Steve E. Turner is a freelance movie reviewer and filmmaker. Read more of his reviews at www.picassofish.blogspot.com.

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