“Hold the elevator”
It all starts with a suicide. Or is it a car crash? I guess it all depends on whether you choose to start at the beginning or the end. Director Gabriele Muccino gives you the ability to enter his new film Seven Pounds whichever way you prefer as he starts at the end and works his way back to the beginning, showing us the course of events that led us to that heartbreaking 911 call. This is one powerful movie; maybe that is because I’m a softy when it comes to dramas of this ilk, dripping with weighty moments and chock full of devastating performances, but either way, a film works best when it truly touches me, when it lingers in the back of my head hours after leaving the theatre. And this is from the team that brought us the overrated, sappy, and not all that redeeming Pursuit of Happyness, so I’ll just say my anticipation was closely guarded for a big letdown. With all that, though, I was with Seven Pounds from the opening frame all the way until the credits rolled. Even though you figure out what Will Smith’s character is doing, that secret mission he is trying to complete, it is the way in which he fulfills his penance that shines bright and leaves you with a tear-filled smile at the end.
Our entry point is a bit jarring, leaving us off-kilter trying to comprehend what is going on. Smith’s Thomas has lists of names, one of people we don’t know and one of people it appears he is attempting to follow and audit. Working with the IRS allows him access to these strangers for a glimpse into their lives in order to see whether they are worthy of a gift he has the power to give them—a gift that could completely alter their circumstances. He calls an old childhood friend (Barry Pepper) and reminds him to do what it is he promised, to not second guess his decision because there is no changing his mind. Even in a role as small as Pepper’s, you can’t help but feel the utter grief held aloft in the background, hanging above everyone’s head. It is his character, seen maybe three times, that really encompasses the primal level of emotion being dealt with. His breakdowns, whether tear-streaked and composed or head in hands convulsions, show the bond these two men have is one that stands the test of time and any circumstance to come its way.
After that phone call, begins the journey to meet new people. Thomas is on some sort of mission to help alleviate the monetary troubles of mortally ill folk, trying to stay afloat despite the heavy burden of medical bills and survival. This progression takes many turns, from a “blind, vegan, meat salesman” that he berates to see whether he can get him to explode; to a phase two donor-necessity heart patient, unable to print her line of stationary, or even run with her Great Dane Duke; to an abused and scared Latino mother of two, too afraid to leave her boyfriend; to a dying hockey coach that instills faith in a downtrodden youth community; to a little boy in need of a bone marrow transplant. There are people who live with the pain and inevitable future with a disposition of hope and wanting to cherish each day, and there are those attempting to beat it by cutting corners and spending all their money at the expense of those who need it to go out in style. Why it is up to Thomas to weed through the mix and find those that deserve his “gift” is unknown at first, as is why this man, seen in flashbacks as an aeronautical engineer with a beautiful wife and huge beachfront home, is now living in a motel, driving a beat-up car, going door to door in order to audit for the IRS. As he says, though, “he kind of stumbled into the job”.
Smith’s quest as Thomas is a long and painful one, tempered with moments of clarity and honest compassion. As a man with the means to help, he takes his job seriously, crossing off people undeserving and testing those he believes are worthy to the nth degree. If that means he must yell and make fun of them, he must do it. At every step, though, you see the suffering in his eyes, the pain eating away at his soul, taking each step towards his fate, one as a saint of redemption, not only for those he wants to help, but for himself as well. It is an award-worthy performance and I only wish Smith would do more dramas like this instead of his blockbuster action summer tentpoles, because, while they are fun, this guy is too good for them. The man better win an Oscar before he is done or it will be a travesty—at least in my mind.
The rest of the cast is stellar across the board. Woody Harrelson as the blind salesman is pitch-perfect handicap with a joy of life. His shy smile and belief in humanity comes across throughout, whether on the phone being yelled at, sitting in a diner eating his pie, or at the piano in the park, playing for all who will listen. Elpidia Carrillo, as the abused mother, is fantastic, showing the hard evolution from prideful to scared to completely overwhelmed by the kindness of a stranger, allowing her family to finally be safe. And Rosario Dawson shines as the “once hot” young woman, beaten and broken by lengthy hospital stays, all but given up on living life to find love and happiness. It is the introduction of Smith’s Thomas that opens her eyes again to be a woman, a free-spirited sexual creature that can just live without fear of wondering what day will be her last.
Grant Nieporte, a guy who only has episodes of “8 Simple Rules…” and “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” to his name, has absolutely stunned me here. What could have been complete melodrama is composed in a creative and revealing way, helped by Muccino’s work and some stunning cinematography, (I loved the moments of close detail on the back of Smith’s head as he walks towards something, the background in complete blur, his head only filling about a third of the screen’s edge). The actors have definitely taken his words and ran with them, filling the voids with emotive actions and memorable moments. Definitely one of the best of the year, I can’t say enough about the impact it had, despite any instances where it could have flown off to soap opera territory, it remained true to the tale, staying the course and never copping-out once.
Seven Pounds 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
 Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures’ drama SEVEN POUNDS. ©2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Beverly Blvd LLC All Rights Reserved.
 Rosario Dawson and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures’ drama SEVEN POUNDS. ©2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and Beverly Blvd LLC All Rights Reserved.