3 out of 5
Directed by: Gabriele Muccino
My opinion, I’d say, falls in line with the mainstream on this one. Not the mainstream of ‘then’ – which mostly drubbed the film upon release – but those reviewing the film a few years later, admitting to its faults – its fairy tale-ish sense of logic, its inherent shallowness – but also aware that a tricksy script and measured directorial / editing pacing keep the experience above the surface. Others have also echoed the following, and I will add to it from personal experience: that I’d already soured on Will Smith at the time due to the outpouring of praise and ‘omg you have to see this change yer life’ pedestrian recommendations following his Pursuit of Happyness with the same director, and so the thought of going through that again with Seven Pounds – clearly a more somber, and “meaningful” movie – was too much to bear and I hated it without seeing it. Professional reviewers are still human, and are still subject to the same biases, and as the most negative reviews take the film (and Smith) to task for being overreaching, I would hanker that said reviewers might’ve been suffering of the same thought processes.
And again: the criticisms are legit, but they don’t sink the film. If anything, it’s all the more impressive that it’s able to overcome its own plotty and conceptual messes.
Structurally, it’s a risky gamble: the movie opens with Will Smith’s IRS agent Ben Thomas, distraught, calling 911 to report his own suicide. We then flash back to some time before, with Thomas IRS-investigatin’ several clients – directly or indirectly – and treating them all very peculiarly, with vague mentions of promises broken. This peculiarity can be unexpected offers of assistance, forced friendship, or harassing phone calls. Thomas never seems to particularly enjoy what he’s doing, and very clipped secondary flashbacks to some tragedy in his past will give most viewers enough pieces to get the gist, and where this is likely going. But even if not, we know where it’s going due to that opening, and so now it’s up to the film to catch us up, which it does not as a puzzle box, but as a straight line. It doesn’t fluff it up with extra exposition (to lead or mislead) because it wouldn’t make sense to do so. This precision was caught by Roger Ebert in his review, and the movie’s commitment to that is what keeps it rather intriguing.
Meanwhile: your brain is calling out the bullshit; deconstructing the almost despicable moralism and idealisms. And then and now, I would offer the same opinion regarding Smith: that I can never not see him as Will Smith; an unfortunate effect some actors are unable to overcome. Technically, he seems to be a fine actor, sinking into the roles, but it’s as though I can always see him thinking about playing the part, a sensation I don’t get from any of his costars. So, for me, that’s a distancing element. Though again, I’d counter that skillful construction and forward momentum still allowed me to appreciate the two hour runtime.
Seven Pounds isn’t the kind of film that’s going to retroactively become a classic, nor does it really deserve to, but it certainly didn’t deserve the critical trashing it got.