Seven Pounds (2008)
“Seven Names. Seven Strangers. One Secret.”
Seven Pounds (2008)
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson
Synopsis: A man with a fateful secret embarks on an extraordinary journey of redemption by forever changing the lives of seven strangers.
WARNING! This review contains major SPOILERS from the outset!
The overwhelming impression given by Gabriele Muccino’s Seven Pounds is that it has absolutely no idea of just how controversial it is. Screenwriter Grant Nieporte has created in Ben Thomas (Will Smith – Hancock, Men in Black 3), a character far more ambiguous than the story in which he is involved, even though the suspicion is that this wasn’t Nieporte’s intention. Thomas is a tormented soul, no doubt about that, but is his quest motivated by a narcissistic shot at self-glorifying redemption, or is it the more humble act of atonement of a man so genuinely filled with remorse and self-loathing that he considers himself less deserving of life than those whom he selects as recipients of his organs once he has committed suicide? There’s no doubting Thomas’s distress when he announces to a 911 operator that he is about to commit suicide, but he also demonstrates clear signs of some kind of saviour complex in the way he sets about judging who deserves to receive his organs and who does not.
An early scene sees Thomas cruelly mocking Ezra (Woody Harrelson – After the Sunset, Zombieland), a blind customer services operator, in order to test his temperament. Had Ezra lost his cool over being insulted by a stranger he would have presumably failed Thomas’s apparently arbitrary litmus test in the same way that an uncaring doctor in need of a bone marrow transplant unknowingly blows his chances when Thomas learns he is punishing a frail elderly patient by refusing to allow her to bathe. Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson – Alexander, Ten Years) is another of Thomas’s test subjects. She has congenital heart failure, and her inability to work has pushed her deep into debt. Thomas finds himself drawn to Emily, despite still grieving over the death of his wife in a car crash for which he was to blame, and his feelings for her lead him to wonder if he doesn’t have a second chance at happiness after he had thought his life was effectively over.
Despite an intriguing opening fifteen minutes or so, Seven Pounds defeats itself by trying to keep the reasons for Thomas’s behaviour a secret. Most people will figure out what’s going on within the first half-hour or so, which means everything until the overwrought finale is merely filler – and that’s a lot of filler considering the film runs for more than two hours. Those who don’t figure it out, meanwhile, may well find the plot’s ambiguity more frustrating than intriguing. There is, at least, a strong performance from Smith in a role that calls for more anger and angst than we’re used to seeing from him. There’s something disarming about the smoothness with which Thomas’s pleasant public identity clicks into place, as if it hides not so much a man in torment as one who spends his private time in contemplation of dark deeds, and Smith’s own easygoing nature works in his favour here to magnify the disparity between the public and the private man.
Unfortunately, a strong performance from the lead can only carry a movie so far, and long spells during which the story lacks momentum, combined with its misguided belief that it’s ambiguity is enough to keep us hooked, ultimately prove to be its undoing. More importantly, the way in which Seven Pounds portrays suicide as a form of noble, selfless heroism is sure to leave many viewers more than a little disturbed.
(Reviewed 14th February 2016)
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