Tuesday, 25 March 2014

“21 Grams” on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 2004 Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu Film

"…Forgive Me…"
21 Grams on BLU RAY

Like a freight juggernaut carrying the poisoned cargo of a screwed-up past and a tormenting temptation-filled-present - ex convict Jack Jordan is a train wreck waiting to derail yet again - only this time in spectacular fashion. At the hands of Preacher John (the ever stunning Eddie Marsan) Jack has at least discovered God ("Jesus gave me that truck...") but he seems to be slowly losing everything else - his freedom, his job and his family.

Mexican Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu had made the brilliant "Amos Perres" in 2000 and it went a long way to drawing in huge talent like Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and especially Benicio Del Toro (as Jack Jordan). Not conventionally structured - 2004's "21 Grams" uses the device of back and forward in time flashbacks to offer up a story of accidents and loss and extreme pain and how ordinary people cope with it (or not as the case may be).

The structure is odd and at times grating - but it brilliantly unfolds the story so you slowly twig what's happened and to whom. One minute Jack Jordan is clean-shaven happily waving to his friends by his pick-up - the next he's in a prison shower again with a towel around his neck (and he isn't trying to clear up his zits). Sean Penn's character Paul River's is wheezing on a ventilator while he sneaks a cigarette from a pill bottle stash in the bathroom in one scene - then is healthy and immaculately suited in the next scene as he ogles a woman in a swimming pool (Naomi Watts) he seems overly interested in for a married man. One moment he's raising a glass of wine with his friends celebrating an organ transplant that has literally saved his life - the next Paul is lying in a hospital bed looking battered with tubes in his mouth - ruminating on the size of the bodyweight you lose when you die (the film's title).

In between all of this we keep returning to a father (a brilliantly subtle Danny Huston) on his mobile to his wife. He is clearly not paying enough attention to his two young daughters giddily chasing a bird on the footpath ahead of him. As the three pass out of shot - leaves are blown ahead as a familiar-looking truck races past - and a few moments later (still out of shot) there's an ominous screech of tyres...

While Sean Penn is typically magnetic - the movie belongs to Benicio Del Toro who straddles it like a malevolent colossus. In the 'Making Of' the Director says you need only point the camera at him and magic will happen - worlds going on behind a glance. Yet somehow (and there are repulsive scenes with his family) Del Toro fills his tattooed enraged Jordan with such gravitas that you empathise with his gradual loss of faith rather than judge him. In one scene he begs a startled man to kill him - end his torment - and you don't for a second think that he doesn't really mean it.

But special praise should also go to the women who are simply astounding and in some cases act the showier male names off the frame. Charlotte Gainsbourg plays Sean Penn's wife Mary Rivers obsessed with having a child even if their relationship is disintegrating - while Melissa Leo plays the wife of the God-obsessed Jack Gordon trying to keep him out of jail and her family together (both are simply superb). But it's Naomi Watts who blows you away. There is a scene where she has to go the hospital to check on her husband and two daughters only to be given unfathomable news. As a parent you physically shake and ache with her harrowing disintegration (she's that good). The only other times I've ever seen this sheer acting power is in "Bright Star" about the life of poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne that has Abbie Cornish give the same kind of mind-blowing performance (see review) and Marion Cotillard's unbelievable performance in the Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie En Rose".

With a 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio (the full screen is filled) 'adequate' best describes the BLU RAY picture quality. It isn't great by any stretch of the imagination featuring many indoor and night scenes with an ever-present pallor of grain. Shooting was all about feel and immediacy - and prettily framed suburbia was never going to be part of the equation. But I'd still say that the power of the watch quickly dissipates any qualms on that front. The only subtitle is English for the Hard Of Hearing.

There's also a great "In Fragments" Making Of where the Director gets all the cast and crew to throw red roses in the air at the start of shooting and white roses when they finish. Each of the principal actors get spots and they're praise and love of the work is palatable. Icing on the cake is Gustavo Santaoialla's stunning score of electric and acoustic heavy guitar strums (like a Mexican Ry Cooder). Gustavo also embellished "Babel" and "The Motorcycle Diaries" with the same emotion-tugging power.

Nominated for 2 Oscars and 5 Baftas - "21 Grams" is visceral cinema peopled with a plethora of actors giving 1000% to a script they know is hard-hitting yet somehow real world redemptive. Inarritu would go on to make the equally brilliant "Babel" and the seriously harsh "Biutiful".

In 2014 you can pick up the stunning “21 Grams” for five quid or less on BLU RAY - and that's a skydiver well spent in my book...

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