- Released Internationally on 19/12/08
- Released in Malta by KRS on 28/01/09
Some sort of diet film?
After leaving his superhero mark on the summer box-office in the flawed-but-fun Hancock, Will Smith is back in a more sombre affair for the winter months. The title doesn’t refer to weight-loss or finances, but to Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, where the infamous pound of flesh demanded by Shylock remains a chilling literary image of retribution. Smith stars as Tim Thomas, a likeable, smart engineer who makes one tiny error of judgement which ends up causing a horrific traffic accident, and the death of seven people. Tormented by guilt, he sets out to find seven genuinely ‘good’ people, and do his utmost to give them a better life, as he feels they deserve.
To reveal more of the plot would be a disservice to the filmmakers, as one of the major plus points here is the gradual and intriguing unveiling of the story, in a technique often described as ‘hyperlink cinema’. By starting off with seemingly-unconnected plot-lines and jumping from one to the other, we are initially left in the dark about what Thomas is up to, but as the story starts to coalesce and fall into place, we are set-up for the grand finale, albeit hinted-at previously. This technique has worked wonderfully in various films over the past decade, most notably 21 Grams, Babel, Crash and Syriana, and is put to good use here. Although the entire plot concerns Thomas, his personal journey involves seven different people, over a span of time, but sharing one common climax. Telling this story in chronological order would probably have resulted in a less-confusing first half, but a much-less satisfying second half.
Will Smith remains a huge star in his own right, loved by cinemagoers and filmmakers alike, and it’s easy to see why. As he has often done before, he carries the entire story on his shoulders, and gives us a main character worth watching for over two hours. Even when we’re presented with confusing scenes that seem out of character and are hard to place sequentially, Smith makes Thomas believable, and ultimately likeable and admirable. Without Smith this character, and therefore the plot built around him, could easily have turned into farce, with a passive audience at the end. But Smith can now afford to pick his roles carefully, and he must have seen this as suiting him perfectly. With his Fresh Prince still drawing laughs on YouTube and TV re-runs, and with very few duds in his big-screen career, this is one star worth watching, whatever he’s in next.
Heart and mind.
Much like his 2006 offering ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, this film is all about heart, and unashamedly tugs on our emotions, often in grand operatic fashion. The scientific facts behind the plot sometimes get swept aside without delving into too much detail, but I guess a certain amount of suspension of belief is excusable, and expected. However, the film is set in the present, and certain jarring facts distract from the main message, and might detract from your enjoyment of an otherwise moving modern fairytale.
Who’s in it?
Apart from Smith, the most striking performance comes from an increasingly impressive Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Death Proof, Eagle Eye) who is going from strength to strength in a great variety of roles, and always comes out on top. She gets the most attention out of the titular seven strangers, and rightly so as her story seems the most tragic. Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, Natural Born Killers) has a short but very memorable role as a disabled call-centre employee who’s slow to anger, and Barry Pepper (25th Hour, Saving Private Ryan) is torn between his feelings as a friend and his promises to Thomas. Italian director Gabriele Muccino is reunited with Smith, whom he directed in Happyness, and he adds another fine emotional drama to his mostly Italian body of work. Venezuelan composer Angelo Milli wrote the original score, including a powerful piece for the film’s climax, but interestingly two of the sentimental high-points of the film are enhanced by a cue from Ennio Morricone’s score to La Leggenda Del Pianista Sull’ Oceano. I guess Milli couldn’t match the maestro when it mattered.
In the end.
The initial confusion slowly gives way to realization and satisfaction, and the characters are engaging enough to make you actually care about the striking conclusion, even if it might seem inevitable. The acting is wonderful, and the story is far-fetched, but heart-warming. Worth watching.