Before he released the Best Picture Academy Award nominated Babel, Alejandro González Iñárritu followed up his startlingly bold debut Amores Perros (which helped usher in the Mexican New Wave) with this amazingly ambitious, intimately powerful human drama. The film centers around three strangers whose lives intersect after a freak car accident that leaves suburban wife and mother Naomi Watts a widow after both her husband (Danny Huston) and two daughters are run down accidentally by ex-con and overly devout born-again-Christian Benicio del Toro. After Huston’s heart is implanted into critically ill mathematics professor Sean Penn’s chest, Penn becomes determined to find out who gave him a second chance at life, tracking down Watts, only to become increasingly obsessed with discovering just what exactly happened that fateful night, much to the dismay of his wife Charlotte Gainsbourg, with whom he’s already beginning to drift apart. Although nearly completely photographed with hand-held cameras (adding to the overwhelming sense of chaotic urgency) and filmed chronologically, the finished film is assembled like a puzzle moving around in time, much to the credit of not only the director and editor but especially the inventive writer Guillermo Arriaga who managed to keep everything he wanted in the order he’d originally conceived it when his brilliant script was transferred to film. Raw, powerful, and difficult both on a cinematic and visceral humanistic level, this must-see masterpiece uses the same ideas of fate, revenge and emotion introduced in Perros (a film that inspired Watts so much that she accepted this role without even reading the script) and 21 Grams is even more effective on a second viewing. The film’s title, which comes from the theory that 21 grams is the weight of a human soul, boasts many fine performances not only from the main trio but the entire supporting cast as well, most notably Melissa Leo as Del Toro’s long-suffering wife. Ineligible for traditional inclusion for the Independent Spirit Awards due to its budget, the film nonetheless received a Special Distinction Award, a Discovery of the Year Award for composer Gustavo Santaolalla from the World Soundtrack Awards and Oscar nominations for both Watts and Del Toro. Sean Penn’s fine turn in the film was overlooked by the Academy in favor of his Oscar winning role that very same year in Clint Eastwood’s thematically similar tragedy and revenge epic Mystic River.
From 21 Grams