Purposefully shrouded in mystery over the past few months, few people going in to Seven Pounds will have any idea of what it’s really about. Mission: accomplished for the studio. This is one of the dourest, boring, and insulting films I have seen in years. We got our first taste of Will Smith Oscar bait back in 2006 with The Pursuit of Happyness, and that film seems genius by comparison. Tears stream as steadily as the Colorado River during Seven Pounds, but none of them will be coming from you.
The setup is actually quite good. The film opens with a depressed and frazzled Ben Thomas (Smith) phoning 911 and reporting his own suicide. He’s an IRS agent by day, but spends many nights trying to find truly “good” people to help. He is a man on mission to change the lives of seven complete strangers. These people include a blind meat salesman (Harrelson), a woman (Carrillo) on the run from her abusive boyfriend, and Emily (Dawson), who suffers from a debilitating heart condition. Why might he be doing all this? I’ll withhold that information, but the reason is surprisingly underwhelming considering the slow burn buildup and enticing opening sequence.
Director Gabriele Muccino has a keen eye for visual composition and atmosphere, but his pacing is excruciating. Blame for that largely falls on the shoulders of screenwriter Grant Nieporte, whose script is so overwrought with tear-siphoning emotion that you’ll feel as if you’ve undergone liposuction by the time the third act begins. Nieporte’s style for ending a scene is to have one or more characters cry, whether appropriate or not. As viewers we rarely take well to having sappy emotion rammed down our throats, but Muccino and company spare nothing in that department.
Will Smith wants an Oscar. That much we understand. But if he thinks he can get one by playing a tragic character in very mediocre-to-bad movies, he’s likely mistaken. There’s really nothing wrong with his performance – he’s heavy-handed enough to match the material on the written page – but then again it’s hardly memorable. Rosario Dawson is effective as Ben’s love interest of sorts, and the two do have chemistry onscreen. Too bad they are given nothing remotely interesting to do. Woody Harrelson also turns up as a blind man on Ben’s list, and his limited role is well-played.
There are many different ways to approach topics of life, death, and regret, but Seven Pounds chooses the route most likely to put you to sleep. It’s a rare occurrence that I knock a film down for being just plain boring, but Seven Pounds is the reeling definition. While the film could have been an appropriate heart warmer for the season, it instead opts to insult its audience with gross observations about who may or not be worthy of living and attempts to milk common emotions for all they’re worth. Aw hell nah.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 118 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality.
Theatrical Release: December 19, 2008
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
Written by: Grant Nieporte
Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Elpidia Carrillo