Sony // 2008 // 123 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // March 31st, 2009
Seven names. Seven strangers. One secret.
Late last year, Will Smith took a break from saving the world to make Seven Pounds, a far less ambitious drama in which he only tries to save seven people.
As Columbia Pictures worked hard to keep the plot of Seven Pounds a mystery, I won't give away much here. What I can tell you is that Will Smith plays Ben Smith (no relation), an IRS agent who uses a government database to find people who need help; Smith then tries to help them. But of course, the plot is not as straightforward as it seems: Ben seems haunted by an event in the past; and his obsession with box jellyfish is certainly odd. What can all it mean?
Seven Pounds received an odd reception upon its release in November. Critics were largely dismissive of the film, while audiences, if the user rating on IMDb can be trusted, loved it. The message board on the bottom of the IMDb page provides testimony for the film's high marks, with several people describing how "this beautiful film" brought them to tears.
While the highfalutin critic in me wants to join my more established colleagues in bashing the film, I have to admit, the people have a point. Seven Pounds is indeed manipulative and superficial, but it hits enough Pavlovian emotional touchpoints that the inner softie in me was reaching for a box of Kleenex by the end credits. In this sense, the film is like a great power rock ballad: trite, but still affecting (think of something along the lines of Journey's "Open Arms").
Credit for this must be given to screenwriter Grant Nieporte and director Gabriele Muccino (who also directed Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness), but the lion's share has to go to Smith. Will Smith is not the best actor of his generation, but he is probably the most charismatic. When Smith waxes about good people who need help (but are too proud to ask), I wanted to gag, and part of me did, but damn it, you just can't dismiss this guy's charm and forty watt smile. He takes the material seriously, as does the rest of a mostly game cast, and almost made me take it seriously, too. Almost.
The problem is, the film is pure bathos, with little subtlety or insight on the human condition. Seven Pounds doesn't bother with complicated emotions or relationships. Nearly every character is one-note, and most of those notes are unadulterated goodness. Though the actors do the best they can in these roles, you hate to see people like Woody Harrelson -- one of the most underrated actors working today -- play a bland, saintly blind man who could probably walk on water.
No one is going to be more enlightened for watching this film. That said, the movie's didactic approach to the meaning of sacrifice might lead some to be more charitable. While this is a worthy achievement, it speaks almost as much to the movie's heavy-handedness than to artistic merit.
Though I was largely forgiving of the film's flaws, digging through the DVD's extras made me reconsider. In Muccino's commentary track and the featurette "Seven Views on Seven Pounds" -- which is cast and crew discussing the movie -- there is a level of seriousness bordering on pomposity that is not only stifling to watch, but totally out of sync with Seven Pounds' superficiality. In addition to these, there are also some filler featurettes on box jellyfish and the printing press, as well as four minor deleted scenes, which total four minutes.
The picture quality is decent, with some shots rendered beautifully -- such as the aforementioned box jellyfish -- but some of the flesh tones came off a bit muddled, especially in the night scenes. The audio doesn't get much of a workout, but the surround sound is used adequately -- a rainstorm made me briefly think it was actually raining outside -- and when Muccino hits the bombastic music cues, the strings, pianos, and percussion really pop out of the speakers.
Seven Pounds is not a profound movie, but its earnestness and emotion are affecting. In lesser hands, the film would probably be unwatchable, but director Gabriele Muccino and star Will Smith are talented enough to make you turn off your critical faculties -- or at least turn them down -- so that you barely notice how manipulative the material actually is.
Guilty of being sentimental claptrap, but other than that, it's pretty good.
Review content copyright © 2009 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 123 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site