Marketed with a trailer that only vaguely hints at the real story underneath the layers of director Gabriele Muccino’s deceptions, Seven Pounds may end up surprising some of its audience. Excellent performances, however, won’t mask the lack of clarity within the screenplay that makes it a frustrating film to endure.
Will Smith is Ben Thomas, who in the first scenes calls 911 to report his own suicide. The remainder of the film is told in flashback, focussing on the days leading up to that moment, and with flashbacks within the flashback revealing more of his motivations. Ben appears to have been on some kind of personal mission, investigating people’s lives as an IRS agent and choosing to help those he considers ‘good people’.
Seven Pounds is shamelessly manipulative, twisting timelines to build an impression of a man, but allowing all kinds of speculation to creep in. Why does he want to kill himself? What gift is he bestowing on those lucky enough to meet his standards? Whether the film would work with a straightforward timeline is uncertain, but Muccino’s decision works in the film’s favour – by encouraging a guessing game it conceals the problems of its plot in a sleight of hand magic trick.
Smith is excellent in the lead role, portraying a full range of emotions without wavering, and suppressing his natural charm to allow an arrogant and flawed character to emerge. His focus and skill are evident particularly in the developing relationship he shares with Rosario Dawson’s Emily. Their interactions are believable and moving, and prove to be the best feature of the film. Dawson displays ability that has never previously been certain (at least to this critic), although recent turns in Eagle Eye, Clerks II and now Seven Pounds suggest we can expect a lot more from her in coming years.
For many viewers, the most frustrating element of Seven Pounds will be its pacing and structure. The film ambles slowly onwards introducing characters and plotlines, before finally beginning to assert itself in its midsection, while players’ roles in the drama are deliberately obscured, such that many in the audience will probably lose patience. Important plot-points are signposted along the way (and in the film’s Shakespearean title) such that the denouement may be considered self-evident, although when the film finally catches up to Ben’s 911 call it is hard not to be moved.
Seven Pounds has a similar problem to overcome to that of My Life Without Me – both require the audience to side with a character engaging in unspeakably selfish deception of their loved ones. Whether fans will enjoy this version of Smith remains to be seen, but its significant flaws can’t be entirely masked by great performances and cunning editing.Rating: