Trying. That’s the word that kept jumping to my mind as I watched Will Smith’s latest effort, ‘Seven Pounds’. It is made by the same team that brought to you the sappy-but-in-a-good-way flick, ‘Pursuit of Happyness’. That particular effort managed to garner an Oscar nomination for Big Will, but I fear that perhaps as an actor, he has become to big for his own good. In way, it’s kinda like Tom Cruise, who delivered a great performance in Oliver Stone’s ‘Born on the 4th of July’. Ever since then, though, I’ve yet to truly see him sink his teeth into another meaty role. Of course, one could also argue that he could only truly play the roles offered to him, but perhaps he’s also enjoying being the hero.
I know I would. Enjoy being the hero, that is.
Will Smith, on the other hand, seems like he’s constantly working not only to be the hero, but also to challenge himself, and do some of the things the hard way. You may think otherwise, but I believe that ‘Seven Pounds’ was his effort to get something of an Oscar push for himself, and boy, did he try hard.
As a direct result of that, he doesn’t really play the hero in this film. He is Ben Thomas, an Internal Revenue Service agent who goes around auditing people. What you see him do throughout the early part of the film is to chase down people who did not pay their taxes in due time. One of these people, Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), is suffering from a heart condition. Simply put, her time is running out. Being the good Samaritan that he is, Ben spends more and more time with her, just to make sure that things are alright for her. He even goes to the extent of pulling weeds from her garden. I have to admit that it is probably at this part that my attention was spiked further: why would an IRS agent be pulling the weeds from the garden of someone he was auditing? Not that I wouldn’t be caught pulling Rosario Dawson’s weeds, but then again, I am not an IRS agent.
It is this question of why that is dragged throughout the film, right from the very first scene of the film, when Ben is shown calling 911, claiming that he wants to report a suicide. As the responder asks him even more questions, including the identity of the would-be suicider, his distress is clearly shown on his face, the sweat mirroring his own despair. “Me.”
We are, then, shown conflicting accounts of who Ben Thomas really is. It brings to mind the theory of the unreliable character. Naturally, as the audience member, we’re a little more inclined to believe, rather than disbelieve, the main character’s point of view. That, simply put, is the basic inclination, and the basic subversion of that basic inclination is that the main character may not be all that reliable. At the risk of appearing to be holier than thou, I’ll just give two different scenes not so far off from each other. The first, a scene with Ben Thomas hurling some tough abuse down the phone to a blind call operator named Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson). The second, a scene of such sensitive interactions between Ben and Emily, early in their relationship (as in, they just met). Ben announced that she is to be declared as essentially bankrupt (there was a specific term used, but I can’t quite recall at this moment to save my life). Instead of being angry or upset, Emily became rather more intrigued. “Why do I feel like you just did me a huge favour?”
Those two examples, then, pretty much sums up the complexity of the character and of the film. If you’re not careful, the emotional chain that you’re led on might end up breaking. I can see where the film was headed, and what the director, Gabriel Muccino, intended to do. In doing so, however, he ended up running dangerously close to me not liking Ben Thomas very much. In the process, I nearly lost my empathy for him. It was confusing in parts, as I wasn’t sure which segments were flashbacks, the present, or mere figments of his imagination. Once again, the unreliable narrative. Sometimes, there were moments when the only thing that kept me going was the big question: why? After a while, when the motivations of this character became clear, I had to actively seek for other things within the film to keep me going to the end.
The film does have its moments. A lot of it, surprisingly, are supplied by the supporting cast members. Woody Harrelson, especially, was surprisingly effective. I absolutely loved his acting as the blind operator. Even if his appearance on the screen wasn’t as long as it probably could and should have been, his was an important role. Rosario Dawson has received much praise from many of the critics, and while it is not undeserved, I would like to see her act in more of the same before really making my mind up on her. She brought strength to a character who is actually quite weak, and personally speaking, I like my women strong.
I had told a friend of my opinion of the film. “Damn,” she said, “I was just thinking of going to catch it.” I realise that perhaps in reading this, I had made out that ‘Seven Pounds’ is a film not worth watching. Re-reading what I had just wrote, it does come off that way, to a certain extent. The exploration of the question ‘why’ was valid, but its method leaves a lot to be desired from me. Had I been in the director’s chair, I would have sought to encourage a more reliable lead character, and push to Woody Harrelson to the foreground a bit more. It would certainly make the film more conventional, though, and we are complaining that a lot of films pander too much to the gallery, right? And I did get some ideas for future projects based on this film.
If you are planning on watching the film, you might enjoy it a bit more compared to me. You might do well to know that the human heart weighs seven pounds, apparently. Maybe that will help to give you a bit more context. However, whatever you do, don’t read up the synopsis on Wikipedia. It totally gave away almost every single thing.
And in chronological order as well, bugger…
Fikri has a craving for cola at 2AM. He doesn’t know why.