Good intentions pave the road to Seven Pounds, which ultimately becomes a hellish sit.
Italian director Gabriele Muccino re-teams with Pursuit of Happyness star Will Smith for an ambitious, well-meaning and initially compelling film that eventually sinks under its own pretensions, and is, at times, unbearably overwrought. It does, however, feature the best use of a jellyfish in recent memory.
Smith stars mysterious Ben Thomas, who begins the film by harassing blind customer service rep Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson) over the phone from his SoCal beach house. Afterwards, he breaks down in tears. Ben was testing him, for some reason, and then he moves on to evaluate a nursing home owner, some hospital patients, and the (literally) broken-hearted Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson).
He does all this under the guise of being an IRS agent – though the film gives us no reason to doubt that he actually is an IRS agent, but he’s acting so strange that we cannot accept it at face value. Who is Ben? What is he doing? Why is he doing it? Ben seems to be a haunted man, as flashbacks to happier times reveal, and he’s strangely reluctant to get too close to Emily.
Seven Pounds is shaped like a mystery, the heart of the mystery being: what are we watching, and why are we watching it? If you can wait a couple hours for the answers (which must inevitably be interesting, if the filmmakers decided to make their movie like this), you’ll find value here.
The rest of us will have to tough it out. I was fascinated for the first half hour, then I decided I knew where the film was going, then after an hour I decided I no longer cared.
Some movies provide a twist at the end that causes us to re-evaluate the rest of the film; Seven Pounds merely provides an explanation. While it can be compelling to watch something knowing the filmmakers are deliberately holding back information from us, most of the time this is confined to single scenes or segments.
Rarely do films attempt to carry this out for the duration; I was reminded of Andrea Arnold’s Red Road, which I had a similar reaction to. Restrained and saddled with more emotional weight than any actor should be given, Smith is still likable here; the success of the film rests on us following his character around with nothing else to grasp hold of, and he nearly pulls it off.
Dawson is also good as a character as much in the dark about Ben as the audience is, and supporting turns by Harrelson and Michael Ealy, as Ben’s brother, are memorable.
Pursuit of Happyness was a refreshingly unsentimental look at a man going through rough times; Seven Pounds is almost the exact opposite – by the end it’s so devastatingly overcooked it’s almost laughable.
There’s a reason the filmmaker’s have kept the whats and whys hidden till the end of the picture. Illogical and unsatisfying, Ben’s motivation and goal here would have been rejected on sight if presented otherwise.