The Pursuit of Forgiveness
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Notable Cast: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Barry Pepper, Michael Ealy, and Woody Harrelson
In examining the last few roles of Will Smith you start to notice a pattern. For his Oscar-nominated turn in The Pursuit of Happyness, he was a destitute man trying to raise a child. In the end he overcomes adversity and finds happiness. I Am Legend, Smith tries to give back and find a cure for a plague that has infected the human race. Hancock, he plays a rejected superhero that saves the day, yet is bestowed jeers by the public instead of gratitude. Albeit with the varying degrees in subject you have a progression from attaining happiness to giving back.
Okay, so maybe I’m drawing at straws (and comparisons) seeing Smith play successive characters that look to solve problems. He expends so much energy in those last two roles when he tries to stop an epidemic or act as an unwanted protector.
Seven Pounds, his second collaboration with director Gabriele Muccino (after Happyness), is a story that, on the surface, seems way outside Smith’s comfort zone. There are no flashy special effects or comic one-liners. He doesn’t play to the audience as if he was headlining some summertime blockbuster. He moves from scene to scene with a look of emptiness. His character, Ben Thomas, is in pursuit of forgiveness, trying to make amends for some unspeakable act.
Muccino doesn’t take the straightforward approach in getting from point A to B to C. He breaks apart the narrative flow with flashbacks and hallucinations, each of which offers a glimpse of the terrible act, or represents something that is lost because of it. The story opens with a phone call relating to suicide and is followed by the incidences that lead up to that life-changing event.
It’s a film of many questions.
Who is Ben Thomas? He says he’s an IRS agent but why so compassionate? Isn’t the IRS full of serious folks armed with calculators and nary a smile? How come he’s rude to a salesman (Woody Harrelson) over the phone once he finds out the salesman is blind? Why is he looking to help the lives of seven people? Ben has a decisive plan, but it is clear only to him. We are left trying to piece everything together for the first hour or so.
It’s a bit unorthodox the character Will Smith plays. Ben always wears suits. Never T-shirts or blue jeans. He’s never in a hurry to decide if a person is worthy of receiving one of his precious gifts. He can be tough at times and angry, but also down to earth, especially when in the company of an attractive woman named Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson). At first she’s confused as to why this man would take a special interest in her – always coming by the house to chat or go for a walk.
The casting of Dawson is an interesting choice. Having worked with Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, she was like every comic-book geek’s fantasy girl. But she’s got some acting chops. She and Will Smith have a unique chemistry. Both are vulnerable but determined. Emma has a failing heart and he has a wounded spirit.
The only thing going against Seven Pounds is that it could be seen as being emotionally manipulative. This was also a complaint of The Pursuit of Happyness. Though not as sappy as that first collaboration, the final step in Ben’s plan is most disagreeable. It might even anger some in the religious sect. The gifts are a sincere gesture for two strangers, but might alienate those who don’t agree with how the plan is executed.
Beyond that quibble, Seven Pounds is still a sentimental story about redemption. The fact that Will Smith is in it only broadens its audience appeal.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):
Tags: Rosario Dawson, Will Smith