© 2008 Ray Wong
The title of Seven Pounds is as cryptic as the movie's trailers and logline: "Seven numbers. Seven strangers. One secret." But once you realize what the drama is about, you'd understand why the mystery.
Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is an IRS agent and he has in his possession the names of seven strangers. They don't know Ben, and they don't know each other. The only commonality they have, it seems, is that they're all owing IRS taxes because of their medical expenses. Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), for example, is a blind customer service rep who is also a part-time pianist. Or Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who has a congenial heart disease.
Ben tracks them down and engages with them. For example, he calls Ezra and tries to make him angry, but Esra refuses to return the treatment. He pays an unannounced visit to Steward Goodman, who needs a bone marrow transplant and runs a nursing home. When he realizes Goodman abuses his patients, he tells him the deal is off. All Goodman knows is that his IRS extension is denied.
While trying to find out more about Emily, Ben falls in love with her. He ends up spending more time with her, but he continues to put up a wall between her and himself. Meanwhile, he asks his best friend Dan (Barry Pepper) to follow some specific instructions, and he gives his house to an abused woman named Connie (Eplidia Carrillo). When Ben's brother finds out what's going on, he demands to know what Ben is planning to do.
Will Smith (Hancock) fluctuates between blockbuster action films and dramas such as Pursuit of Happyness. The cryptic marketing of Seven Pounds makes it unclear to us whether it's a thriller or drama. Anyway, Smith is very good and likable as Ben, and he gives the role a quiet, calm, resolute nature that is crucial to the character and story. Smith has also lost a lot of weight for the role, adding to the gravity of the material. He has a great emotional range; one must marvel as how much he's improved as a dramatic actor in the past few years.
Rosario Dawson (Eagle Eye) is effective as Ben's romantic interest. She comes off as a bit passive in the beginning but ends up holding her own alongside Will Smith. She also has very good chemistry with Smith and that makes that part of the plot work without being too sappy. Their interactions seem natural and nuanced enough create certain realism no matter how outrageous the plot begins to unveil.
The supporting cast is generally up to task. Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men) plays against type in a small role as a demure, kind blind man. His performance is solid and touching. Michael Ealy (Miracle at St. Anna) is fine in another small role as Ben's bother. Barry Pepper (Flags of Our Fathers) is particularly moving as Ben's best friend.
Written by TV scribe Grant Nieporte (8 Simple Rules), the story is an interesting concept and sentimental exercise that examines our values and mortality. Surely, once we understand what is going on, we begin to question Ben's actions and motives, depending on our own values. By the time we understand what the title means, like it or not, it's going to a hot topic for discussion. Nieporte unfolds the mystery nicely, giving us bits of information until we see the whole picture.
Still, it feels manipulative at times, especially toward the end. The plot and dialogue are contrived and the basic premise is rather outlandish. Also, I think Nieporte's made a mistake by "jumpstarting" the film with the prologue -- to me, that gives away too much. For audiences who pay attention, the mystery is lost on them because it's pretty obvious at the get-go. I think Nieporte would have made the mystery more riveting and the revelation more surprising if he had played the cards closer to his vest.
Director Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness) teams up with Will Smith again and he's very good with this kind of heartstring-tugging material. The problem is, this script is more manipulative and less naturalistic than that of Happyness. What comes out of this effort is an elaborate attempt at a tearjerker.
But guess what, they've succeeded because human emotions are easily manipulated. On the other hand, I kind of resent that. Not that I mind genuine emotions and shedding a tear or two (which I did), but I resent the fact that Nieporte and Muccino do that with such heavy-handedness, as if they were afraid the audience wouldn't get it. Yes, we get it. In fact, the whole movie, from the first frame to the last, is manufactured precisely to do just that. To me, one of the problems I find with the film is how it goes so shamelessly for the heart by somehow sacrificing the mind. That's not to say the story is idiotic, but it does stretch our suspension of disbelief. We could understand Ben's motive, his emotional state, or even his resolution or altruism. But I, for one, am not convinced by those around him. The seven-pound question I ask is: "If you knew someone who's going to do what Ben is, would you stop him?"
Stars: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Elpidia Carillo, Robinne Lee, Tim Kelleher, Judyann Elder
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Writer: Grant Nieporte
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and sensuality
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10