Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Joe Nunez
"Seven Pounds" is a mess.
"Seven Pounds" is grossly emotionally manipulative, while being simultaneously intellectually incoherent.
"Seven Pounds" is flamboyantly preachy in the "Tom Cruise dancing on top of a sofa" type of way.
Written by first-time screenwriter Grant Neoporte, "Seven Pounds" reads like a 30-minute dramatic soap opera filled to the brim with histrionic crescendos and Shakespearean depths.
Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I liked it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying "Seven Pounds" is Oscar-bait...not at all. It's not. Despite being directed by Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit of Happyness") and starring Will Smith, "Seven Pounds" is an immensely flawed film that is likely to get decent box-office numbers only because Will Smith's fans will give virtually anything he does a chance.
"Seven Pounds" may be the biggest test yet of Smith's marketability.
The film is both tragic and hopeful, often in the same scene. Going into opening weekend, the secrets of "Seven Pounds" have been closely guarded. We know, pretty much for certain, that Will Smith plays a man with a certain darkness in his past for which he carries a sense of responsibility.
What is it?
The trailer doesn't really tell you, though it certainly drops hints. Smith and Muccino are, essentially, saying "trust us" to their audiences and likely depending upon Smith's popularity to carry the film through its opening weekend.
My guess? It'll work.
I've never been one to be completely taken by Will Smith.
"Ali?" Good film, but nothing that special.
"The Pursuit of Happyness?" Again, a good film but I was in the background saying "C'mon, overrated."
"Hancock?" Heck, I completely trashed it.
I really hated "Hancock."
So, here we have "Seven Pounds," a film that is being largely trashed by the critics and I'm saying "Wait a minute, give this one a chance."
As we are introduced to Ben (Will Smith), we are simultaneously repulsed and intrigued by the guy. Ben is an IRS agent with some very unorthodox methods and behaviors.
For the second film in a row, Smith goes outside his comfort zone and completely trashes his nice guy persona.
Actually, the weird thing about "Seven Pounds" is that he doesn't really trash his nice guy persona...he more toys with it.
Is he a good guy gone bad or a bad guy gone good? Is he a knight in shining armor or an emotionally destroyed man in search of redemption?
Is he righting his wrongs or redefining justice?
Your enjoyment of "Seven Pounds," and I use the word enjoyment rather loosely, depends almost entirely upon your ability to surrender your intellect and simply take the journey.
Smith's performance, while at times revealing his limitations with displaying emotional vulnerability, is downright eerie in capturing a man who at times seems to be among the walking dead. Whatever secret Ben harbors, it clearly has devastated his soul and he brings this devastation into every personal encounter.
Encounter, he does. Ben seems intent on improving the lives of those forgotten souls he deems to be really good people.
There's Ezra (Woody Harrelson), a blind telephone salesman who is initially subjected to Ben's rage. Yet, despite being wounded, Ezra never retaliates...a fact that seems to both mesmerize and overwhelm Ben.
There's a young boy who needs a bone marrow transplant, an elderly woman left alone unbathed in a nursing home, a Hispanic woman trapped by poverty in a violent relationship and even more.
Then, there's Emily. Emily (Rosario Dawson) is a young, vibrant woman desperately clinging on to her hopes and dreams while suffering from congenital heart failure.
It is Emily, more than the others, who will challenge Ben to stick to his "mission" as he falls, ever so slightly, in love with her. She will show him a love that he may be no longer capable of feeling.
While "Seven Pounds" is immensely flawed, I enjoyed it because Will Smith and Rosario Dawson, and to a lesser degree Woody Harrelson, reeled me in hook, line and sinker.
While Tom Cruise hasn't quite learned how to make a film without flashing that Tom Cruise smile, Will Smith has thrown caution to the wind in giving one of 2008's finer performances.
Yet, I must admit that as much as I loved Smith's performance it was truly Rosario Dawson who completely enchanted me.
I've long regarded Dawson as one of Hollywood's underrated actresses, and with "Seven Pounds" she gives a memorable, heartbreaking and exhilarating performance. Dawson exudes sensuality and vulnerability, beauty and grace in her every moment onscreen. While her performance is likely to go unrecognized this year, it is truly one of the year's best leading performances by an actress.
You will not believe "Seven Pounds." It stretches the boundaries of reality, relentlessly and passionately.
You may not even like "Seven Pounds." It is chaotic, emotionally uneven and frequently uncomfortable.
Love it or hate it, "Seven Pounds" is a film you won't be able to forget.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic