Will Smith is making for a great throwback-themed month, I’ve just realized. He’s a superstar, yes, that’s true. But more than that, he’s more diverse of an actor than I may have previously considered him to be. July has turned out to be a fun examination of a few of his biggest hits, each of them quite different and in each of them Smith is varying levels of his goofy, Fresh Prince-self. However, in some cases, he’s completely straight-edge and serious. Flexing his dramatic muscle last month as Attorney Robert Clayton Dean in Enemy of the State, the actor has impressive versatility that may be overlooked in favor of that goofy side — because, let’s face it, who wants a really grumpy lead role? Well . . . . he’s not exactly firing any noisy crickets here or joking it up alongside Martin Lawrence. Smith in a different role, is interesting. Just as good? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Today’s food for thought: Seven Pounds.
Release: December 19, 2008
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
Yeah, so if you’re looking for the movie where Will Smith says a lot of nice things to people, this is not the one to pick up. “Ben” Thomas is haunted by a secret from his past, wherein a car accident, involving seven people including his wife, killed six. Plagued with guilt “Ben” is constantly on edge, and something of an antisocial stubborn man. As an IRS tax collector, he’s not exactly ecstatic about his contributions to society in general. But he is looking for ways to help people out, a kind of compulsive desire to make up for the grief he caused others, as well as clearly himself.
Smith’s character here is really quite rough. Interactions with a few of the main players in Seven Pounds — Woody Harrelson’s Ezra Turner as well as Rosario Dawson’s Emily Posa — make for some tough scenes to watch, quite honestly, and getting used to him in this role may take some time. For others, maybe it won’t happen at all. This movie is the recipient of a pretty cruddy RT score (27%) and while the story here is a lot less pretty than some of Big Willie’s others, it’s no rotten tomato damn it. However, it probably shouldn’t be understated that your fandom might be tested with the lead character.
“Ben” is donating parts of his body to those who he’s deemed are deserving of his help. He’s given up bone marrow, lung tissue (to his brother), part of his liver and a kidney. After said donations, “Ben”‘s still searching for more ways to help. A blind meat salesman, Ezra, receives a call from “Ben” one evening, and the purpose of this call (apparently) was to test this person’s temper. After insulting and downright bullying the man on the other end of the line — he makes fun of the guy not being able to see — “Ben” finds that this Ezra guy is not quick to anger, thus he is a candidate for a donation.
A second candidate, Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carrillo), a woman who lives with an abusive husband, is brought to “Ben”‘s attention. One night after being beaten she calls the number on the business card “Ben” had left her in a previous visit, and she, along with her kids, are immediately out of harm’s way. I won’t say exactly what happens here, since it’s one of the big moments in the movie but suffice it to say I feel as though these moments, scarce as they are in the relatively bleak Gabriele Muccino-directed drama, are overlooked by a lot of detractors of the film. It’s summary is described as “grim and morose, undone by an illogical plot.” I maybe could agree to the second part of that, but to just write the whole thing of as being grim and morose is only telling of part of the film’s arc. It may never be a particularly happy film, but there is a remarkable transformation in Smith’s character (more spoilers on that in a second) that drives the second half of it that redeems all of the, quite frankly, shitty mood of the first.
A third candidate whom “Ben”‘s been informed of is a woman who has heart problems, Emily Posa (Dawson) and who also has a rare type of blood. In order for “Ben”‘s “seven pounds” to be fulfilled successfully, this would mean him donating his heart to Emily, whom he has grown close to over the coming days. (Yes, of course there would be a complication here — a device that I could totally see the argument for it being a little manipulative and hokey, but I go along with it anyway because I just think Will Smith is damn amazing in this film.) When Emily takes a turn for the worse one day, “Ben” knows what he has to and is going to do next.
While I can sort of get behind some viewpoints that claim the ending is completely dumb and makes little sense, I think it’s the only logical way for the film to finish. Despite me still thinking it’s not the best conclusion — nor the happiest — the jarring drama had led us to believe was coming, it’s an interesting perspective on how the impacts of one person’s actions ripple across a community. When a gathering is held at the end of the film where all the recipients of Mr. Thomas’ donations meet one another, Ezra and Emily come across each other. He has “Ben”‘s eyes, and Emily is alive because of the — well, you know — the heart thing. That seems a little cheesy, I know, but in execution, the movie pulls it off to great effect.
The film may not be Will Smith’s most iconic, but it is one of his most unique. He completely steps aside from his typical and charming appeal to take on this pseudo-anti hero in “Ben” Thomas. So those quotation marks around his name are probably driving you nuts by now, huh? Well this is spoiler territory, so I’m going to strike out the spoiler but if you’ve seen it/don’t mind ruining the film for yourself, by all means read on.
Ben’s true identity becomes revealed earlier in the film, as Smith’s character, who’s actually named Tim, stole his brother’s identification to keep his own a secret in fulfilling his donations. His brother confronted Tim about the situation and was concerned about Tim’s well-being. At the end of the film, Emily and Ezra find out who their mutual donor is, and we all skip happily ever after down the road. No, not quite. But you get the idea.
Recommendation: An effective blend of drama and a romantic spark between Dawson and Smith pushes Seven Pounds into the more ‘acquired taste’ portion of the Fresh Prince’s career, but still it’s a thoughtful examination of the sacrifice people are willing to make for others. For a more well-rounded perspective of Smith’s repertoire, it’s a good idea to give this a try.
Running Time: 123 mins.
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