[Film Review] Seven Pounds (2008)

Even movie aficionados (or douchey guys who review movies gratis on a moderate traffic website) can have movies slip through the cracks. It’s simply too difficult to see every movie, not only because you have to pay, but because it’s incredibly time consuming. Some people have to have what’s known as a day job to pay the bills.

Seven Pounds is just such a movie. It has just the look of a film I would expect to at the very least not hate, but it’s bad. It’s really, really bad. Released in the holiday season of 2008, the film centers around the life of Ben Thomas, an IRS agent that holds within him a deep secret. He seems to be going around the random folks with a desire to help them. His exact motives aren’t exactly known until the end of the film, and the journey is pretty morose and mundane. There are going to be spoilers in this review, because it’s been out 18 months and I really want to discuss the flaws which may involve discussing the plot semi in-depth. And if you haven’t seen it by now, your interest is probably fleeting, and I’m going to save you two disappointing hours.

We start off with Ben on the phone with an emergency response team, informing them of his impending suicide. Of course, since this is trying to be an artistic movie, this is non-linear and is actually something that happens at the end of our story. It’s almost painfully obvious. But starting off a movie with a flawed character isn’t a bad idea, in theory. The only problem is that Ben looks more and more like a stalker in the next thirty or so minutes, and we don’t know why.

Ezra Thomas (Woody Harrelson) is the only reason I continued watching the movie. He and Ben (Will Smith) share a phone call in the first five minutes of the movie, and I found myself really immersed by Harrelson’s performance. He’s heart breaking and compelling, and I was hoping that he was going to set the tone for the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, Ezra vanishes for the bulk of the film.

We have Ben’s relationship with his wife, and we are only given glimpses into their relationship that looks to have ended in tragic fashion. Only the relationship is never established in our mind. The turn of events that led to her death and Ben’s current situation is only briefly touched upon in tiny flashback scenes. But Ben has already been made to look like an arrogant dickhole, so we aren’t exactly sympathizing with his plight.

Ben’s relationship with his brother is criminally underdeveloped, as is his relationship with Dan (Barry Pepper). Ben keeps referring to a “deal” that the two seemingly old friends have, but we don’t know what it is. A little mystery is fine. Hell, the end result could have been a powerful revelation for the audience. Instead, it comes off as bland, uninspired, and tepid. Ben’s brother isn’t even given a name in the script. It’s obvious why about half way through the film, as Ben is telling a story to Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson).

Ben’s relationship with Emily is also very forced. Any movie where the central relationship fails is in big trouble. It’s not that Smith and Dawson lack chemistry. Hell, the performances of everyone in the movie are pretty good (with Harrelson being fantastic). The relationship just feels so phony and transparent that there is no desire for the audience to invest in it, especially when we begin to suspect Ben’s true motives.

The direction of the film again is almost admirable. It’s not distracting and shows plenty of promise. It reminded me of a low rent Alejandro González Iñárritu. Perhaps had it been directed by Iñárritu, it would’ve had a keen eye overseeing that the script is terrible and needed vast reworking. The director’s previous film, The Pursuit of Happyness, was a fantastic film where he also worked with Will Smith. This isn’t a bad pairing. But a better director would have known very early on that the script is an absolute mess, and a mega movie star not craving a film so drastically different from everything he has ever done would’ve noticed that too. So, they deserve some blame, to be sure. But 95% of it belongs to writer Grant Nieporte.

A quick glance at this guys filmography shows me that he has written episodes for Sabrina the Teenage Witch and 8 Simple Rules. Never has he had anything produced of a similar nature. Going in a different direction is a bold move for a writer, but the “why” is painstakingly obvious. This is pure wannabe Oscar bait, but the problem is he isn’t clever enough to structure the damn thing coherently. The script is immediately presumptuous, and only spirals further and further into a tragic mess. All of the foreshadowing with the jellyfish isn’t interesting, it’s shoddy writing.

The script insults us immediately by trying to be overly sentimental without establishing any meaningful characters. Ezra and Emily are fine characters. We just don’t get enough of them. As I said earlier, Ben is made to look like both suicidal and like an angry dick in the first few minutes, and he’s our main character. He’s our main character in a movie that rarely ventures away from him. Will Smith plays it fine, but the script digs him a huge hole very early on. And it only digs deeper.

As Ben meanders around apparently scouting the people he wants to apparently help, we never quite know why. Again, we are given glimpses that he lost his wife and apparently he blames himself for her death and the death of seven other people. He wants to help more people so that the blood can be washed from his hands. But when we find out Ben has been lying to Emily, and that he has been impersonating his brother to find people to help, we really start to dislike “Ben”. We don’t know who he really is, or why he’s doing anything that he’s doing.

Things get really arduous from the halfway point on. Instead of a climatic ending that has you on the edge of your seat, you’re just sitting there as it slowly plods through the mud. It’s nothing you didn’t expect, and even worse, it’s not any good.

The concept of the film is fine. A complete retooling of the script by someone who hasn’t only written formulaic sitcoms could’ve potentially saved this movie. Everyone else brings a respectable game to the table. The performances are fine, the direction decent, the score okay. At the very least it could’ve been a decent movie.

The movie seems to want to be told in a non-linear structure at the beginning, but it never commits to that structure. It eventually succumbs to a more traditional narrative. We do get some brief flashbacks, but those are menial and almost pointless. The non-linear perspective could’ve made the movie drastically more interesting. Think about Babel. A good, average movie that seems much better than it is because of the engaging structure.

Starting with Ben and his wife’s relationship, and really cementing it and the circumstances behind her death, and cutting between what he is intending to do and why he’s doing it could have resulted in a really poignant film that follows the torment of a man who has lost the love of his life, possibly at his own hands, and his struggle to deal with circumstances. But holy hell do they decide to go in a terrible direction.

Final Words:

There is absolutely no reason to see this movie. Zero. It’s literally one of the more terrible movies I have subjected myself to in recent memory. The main tragedy is that it didn’t have to be. A promising director and solid cast fall victim to one of the most annoying, painstaking overall films I have seen. The film wants to be emotional, wants you to care about the characters, but it never gives you any reason to invest in anything. It’s laborious, taxing, and mentally draining. Grant Nieporte should stick to writing for crappy TV shows, because he obviously has no idea how to craft an even decent feature film.

Score: 1.0/10 (Dreadful)

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