Film Review: The Snowman (dir by Tomas Alfredson)


So, I finally watched the 2018 thriller, The Snowman, and my main reaction to the film is that it featured a lot of snow.

That’s understandable, of course.  The film takes place in Norway and it’s called The Snowman so, naturally, I wasn’t expecting a lot of sunshine.  Still, after a while, the constant shots of the snow-covered landscape start to feel like almost some sort of an inside joke.  It’s almost as if the film is daring you to try to find one blade of grass in Norway.  Of course, the snow is important because the film’s about a serial killer who builds snowmen at the sites of his crimes.  They’re usually pretty big snowmen as well.  It’s hard not to be a little impressed by the fact that he could apparently make such impressive snowmen without anyone noticing.

Along with the snow, the other thing that I noticed about this movie is that apparently no one knows how to flip a light switch in Norway.  This is one of those films where every scene seems to take place in a dark room.  I found myself worrying about everyone’s eyesight and I was surprised the everyone in the film wasn’t wearing glasses.  I can only imagine how much strain that puts on the eyes when you’re constantly trying to read and look for clues in the dark.

Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, a Norwegian police inspector who may be troubled but still gets results!  He’s upset because his ex-girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) has a new boyfriend (Jonas Karlsson).  He’s also upset because his son (Michael Yates) doesn’t know that Harry is actually his father.  Or, at least, I think that Harry’s upset.  It’s hard to tell because Fassbender gives a performance that’s almost as cold as the snow covering the Norwegian ground.  Of course, he’s always watchable because he’s Fassbender.  But, overall, he doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in either the role or the film.

Harry and his new partner (Rebecca Ferguson) are investigating a missing person’s case, which quickly turns into a multiple murder mystery.  It turns out that the crimes are linked to a bunch of old murders, all of which were investigated by a detective named Gert Rafto (Val Kilmer).  Gert was troubled but he still got results!  Or, at least, Harry thinks that he may have gotten results.  Nine years ago, Rafto died under mysterious circumstances…

Now, I have to admit that when, 30 minutes into the film, the words “9 years earlier” flashed on the screen, I groaned a bit.  I mean, it seemed to me that the movie was already slow enough without tossing in a bunch of flashbacks.  However, I quickly came to look forward to those brief flashbacks, mostly because they featured Val Kilmer in total IDGAF mode.  Kilmer stumbles through the flashbacks, complete with messy hair and a look of genuine snarky bemusement on his face.  Kilmer gives such a weird and self-amused performance that his brief scenes are the highlight of the film.

Before it was released, The Snowman was hyped as a potential Oscar contender.  After the movie came out and got roasted by the critics, director Tomas Alfredson replied that the studio forced him to rush through the production and that 10 to 15% of the script went unfilmed.  Considering Alfredson’s superior work on Let The Right One In and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The film’s disjointed style would certainly seem to back up Alfredson’s claim that there was originally meant to be more to the film than actually ended up on the screen.

The Snowman is one of those films that doesn’t seem to be sure what it wants to be.  At times, it aspires to David Lynch-style surrealism while, at other times, it seems to be borrowing from the morally ambiguous crime films of Taylor Sheridan.  Ultimately, it’s a confused film that doesn’t seem to have much reason for existing.  At the same time, I’ve also been told that the Jo Nesbø novel upon which the movie is based is excellent.  The same author also wrote the novel that served as the basis for 2011’s Headhunters, which was pretty damn good.  So, read the book and ignore the film.

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists Announced Their Picks For The Best of 2016!


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The Alliance of Women Film Journalists (of which I am not a member and what’s up with that!?) announced their picks for the best of 2016 earlier this week.

And here they are:

AWFJ BEST OF AWARDS
These awards are presented to women and/or men without gender consideration.
Best Film
Arrival
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
Moonlight

Best Director
Damien Chazelle – La La Land
Barry Jenkins – Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea
David Mackenzie – Hell or High Water
Denis Villeneuve – Arrival

Best Screenplay, Original
20th Century Women – Mike Mills
Hail Caesar – Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Hell or High Water – Taylor Sheridan
La La Land – Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea – Kenneth Lonergan

Best Screenplay, Adapted
Arrival – Eric Heisserer
Lion – Luke Davies
Love & Friendship – Whit Stillman
Moonlight – Barry Jenkins
Nocturnal Animals –Tom Ford

Best Documentary
13th – Ava DuVernay
Gleason – Clay Tweel
I Am Not Your Negro – Raoul Peck
OJ Made in America – Ezra Edelman
Weiner – Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegma

Best Animated Film
Finding Dory – Andrew Stanton andAngus MacLane
Kubo and the Two Strings- Travis Knight
Moana – Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker, Chris Williams
Zootopia – Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Best Actress
Amy Adams – Arrival
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Ruth Negga – Loving
Natalie Portman – Jackie
Emma Stone – La La Land

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis – Fences
Greta Gerwig – 20th Century Women
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

Best Actor
Casey Affleck – Manchester By The Sea
Joel Edgerton – Loving
Ryan Gosling – La La Land
Tom Hanks – Sully
Denzel Washington – Fences

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight
Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water
Ben Foster – Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges – Manchester By the Sea
Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals

Best Ensemble Cast – Casting Director
20th Century Women – Mark Bennett and Laura Rosenthal
Hail Caesar – Ellen Chenoweth
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin and Richard Hicks
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez

Best Cinematography
Arrival – Bradford Young
Hell or High Water – Giles Nuttgens
La La Land – Linus Sandgren
Manchester by The Sea – Jody Lee Lipes
Moonlight – James Laxton

Best Editing
Arrival – Joe Walker
I Am Not Your Negro — Alexandra Strauss
La La Land – Tom Cross
Manchester By The Sea – Jennifer Lame
Moonlight – Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders

Best Non-English-Language Film
Elle – Paul Verhoeven, France
Fire At Sea – Gianfranco Rossi, Italy
The Handmaiden – Chan-Wook Park, South Korea
Julieta – Pedro Almodovar. Spain
Toni Erdmann – Maren Ede, Germany

EDA FEMALE FOCUS AWARDS
These awards honor WOMEN only

Best Woman Director
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Ava DuVernay -13TH
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Mira Nair – Queen of Katwe
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women

Best Woman Screenwriter
Andrea Arnold – American Honey
Rebecca Miller – Maggie’s Plan
Kelly Reichardt – Certain Women
Lorene Scafaria – The Meddler
Laura Terruso – Hello, My Name is Doris

Best Animated Female
Dory in Finding Dory –Ellen DeGeneres
Judy in Zootopia – Ginnifer Goodwin
Moana in Moana – Auli’i Cravalho

Best Breakthrough Performance
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Janelle Monáe – Moonlight and Hidden Figures
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Ruth Negga – Loving

Outstanding Achievement by A Woman in The Film Industry
Ava DuVernay – For 13TH and raising awareness about the need for diversity and gender equality in Hollywood
Anne Hubbell and Amy Hobby for establishing Tangerine Entertainment’s Juice Fund to support female filmmakers
Mynette Louie, President of Gamechanger Films, which finances narrative films directed by women
April Reign for creating and mobilizing the #OscarsSoWhite campaign

EDA SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

Actress Defying Age and Ageism
Annette Bening – 20th Century Women
Viola Davis – Fences
Sally Field – Hello, My Name is Doris
Isabelle Huppert – Elle and Things to Come
Helen Mirren – Eye in the Sky

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Lead and The Love Interest Award
Dirty Grandpa – Robert De Niro (b. 1943) and Aubrey Plaza (b. 1984)
Independence Day: Resurgence – Charlotte Gainsbourg (b 1971) and Jeff Goldblum (b 1952)
Mechanic Resurrection – Jason Statham (b. 1967) and Jessica Aba (b. 1981)
Rules Don’t Apply – Warren Beatty (b. 1937) and Lily Collins (b. 1989)

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent
Jennifer Aniston – Mother’s Day and Office Christmas Party
Melissa McCarthy – The Boss and Ghostbusters
Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad and Tarzan
Julia Roberts – Mother’s Day
Shailene Woodley – Divergent Series

Bravest Performance
Jessica Chastain – Miss Sloane
Naomie Harris – Moonlight
Isabelle Huppert – Elle
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Ruth Negga – Loving

Remake or Sequel That Shouldn’t have been Made
Ben-Hur
Ghostbusters
Independence Day: Resurgence
The Magnificent Seven
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

AWFJ Hall of Shame Award
Sharon Maguire and Renee Zellweger for Bridget Jones’s Baby
Nicholas Winding Refn and Elle Fanning for The Neon Demon
David Ayer and Margot Robbie for Suicide Squad
David E. Talbert and Mo’Nique for Almost Christmas

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Independence Day: Resurgence (dir by Roland Emmerich)


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Oh, who cares?

Sorry, I know that’s like an ultra unprofessional way to open a review but Independence Day: Resurgence is one of the least inspiring films that I’ve ever seen.  Jeff and I saw it the day that it opened and, at the time, I was planning on reviewing it the next day.  But when I sat down to actually write about the movie … well, I discovered that I could hardly care less.  This is one of those films that I could have easily waited until December to review.  However, seeing as today is Independence Day, this seemed to be the right time to say something about it.

Memorable movies inspire.  Good movies inspire love.  Bad movies inspire hate.  A movie like Independence Day: Resurgence inspires apathy.

Actually, what’s really frustrating about Independence Day: Resurgence is that it starts out with such promise.  The first few scenes suggest that maybe the film is trying to be something more than just another “let’s blow shit up while stars get quippy” action film.  Independence Day: Resurgence imagines an alternative history for post-alien invasion Earth and it’s actually pretty clever.  Earthlings have taken advantage of the alien technology but society has also become heavily militaristic.  The main characters of the first film are all revered as heroes but, when we first meet former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman, with a wise old man beard), he’s having nightmares about the invasion.

And seriously, for the first 30 minutes or so, I really thought that Independence Day: Resurgence might turn out to be surprisingly clever, that maybe it would satirize the excesses of the original while subtly critiquing everything that’s fucked up about our real world.

Well, that was a mistake on my part.  There is no satire.  There is no critique.  Instead, it’s just another alien invasion film and it’s all terribly predictable.  It may be a sequel to the first Independence Day but it feels more like a rip-off of Battle: Los Angeles.  Considering what the film could have been, it’s impossible not to be disappointed by how familiar and uninspired it all is.

What I failed to take into account is that this film was directed by Roland Emmerich.  Emmerich is a director who is best distinguished by his total lack of self-awareness.  After all, this is the director who, in Anonymous, seriously suggested that William Shakespeare personally murdered Christopher Marlowe.  Watching Independence Day: Resurgence and listening to the generic dialogue and witnessing the generic mayhem, I started to get the sinking feeling that the film was a joke and that  Emmerich was the only person on the planet who was not in on it.  He doesn’t realize how predictable his movies are or that his characters are cardboard cut-outs or that the film’s inspiring moments are so overdone that they instead become groan-inducing.  One of the stars of the first film sacrifices himself in Resurgence and you know who it’s going to be from the minute he shows up onscreen.  Emmerich is not a good enough director to make his sacrifice touching.  The fact that the film ends with the promise of a sequel is not surprising and yet, it still somehow manages to be annoyingly presumptive.  The film’s ending seems to be taunting us.  “Of course, you’re going to want to sit through this shit for a third time…what other choice do you have?”

In the film’s defense, the cast is big and it includes a lot of good actors.  Unfortunately, the characters are so undeveloped that you again find yourself regretting what a waste it all is.  Jeff Goldblum and Judd Hirsch are both likable but Bill Pullman seems to be incredibly bored with the whole thing.  Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher, and Maika Monroe are all stuck playing typical Emmerich ciphers.

I should mention that, despite how negative this review may sound, I did not hate Independence Day: Resurgence, at least not in the way that I’ve hated other films, like Anonymous or the remake of Straw Dogs.  My problem with Resurgence isn’t that I hated it or even that I disliked it.  It’s that I didn’t feel much about it, one way or the other.  It’s one of those film that is best described as “just kinda being there.”  Apathy is the worst thing that a film can inspire.

Perhaps the best thing about Independence Day: Resurgence is that Roland Emmerich has protected the holiday from being co-opted by Garry Marshall.

Here’s the Trailer for Robotec…I mean Independence Day: Resurgence


Independence Day Resurgence

For decades fans of Robotech (Macross everywhere else in the world) have been hoping for a live-action film adaptation of this very iconic anime series from Japan. Many Westerners had their first introduction to anime after watching the localized version of the original Japanese series Macross. There have been some traction to get the live-action film up and running but rarely past pre-production stage.

With special effects advancing to the point that we can almost recreate dead people back to life via digital trickery, entire worlds astronomers could only dream of and fantastical lands and creatures it’s high time we got a live-action Robotech film. We fans deserve such a gift.

For now, let’s settle for Independence Day: Resurgence which seems to lift certain elements from the anime series spoken of above to make up the plot of the sequel to 1996’s blockbuster hit, Independence Day.

Independence Day: Resurgence is set for a June 24, 2016 release date.

Film Review: Misunderstood (dir by Asia Argento)


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I’ve always loved Asia Argento because, as both an actress and a public personality, she is tough, hard, and sexy all at the same time.  She’s not one of those actresses who feels the need to hide who she really is.  Watching her on-screen, you realize that she doesn’t give a fuck whether you like her or not.  Instead, she’s going to do whatever it is that she wants to do and, if you’re lucky, you might get to watch.  Some hold her responsible for the erratic output of Dario Argento’s post-Opera career but those people far too often fail to take into account that Asia, with her naturally off-center presence, has often been the most interesting thing about Dario’s later films. (Say what you will about Trauma, The Stendhal Syndrome, and Mother of Tears, they’re all better with Asia than without her.)  Asia Argento is one of those talented actresses who could never have played Ophelia because no one would ever believe that she would so easily drown.  Instead, she’d simply pull herself out of the water and then go kick Hamlet’s ass for being so indecisive.

If that paragraph sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same paragraph that I used to start my review of Asia Argento’s directorial debut, Scarlet Diva.  I have no shame about recycling that paragraph for my review of Asia Argento’s third directorial effort, Misunderstood, largely because Misunderstood is, in many ways, a companion piece to Scarlet Diva.  Whereas Scarlet Diva was based on Asia Argento’s life as an international film star, Misunderstood is based on her famously dysfunctional childhood.  And, much as your enjoyment of Scarlet Diva was dependent upon how much you already knew about Asia’s life, how you feel about Misunderstood depends on whether you know that nine year-old Aria (Giulia Salerno) will eventually grow up to be Asia Argento.

Aria is the daughter of celebrities.  Her father (Gabriel Garko) is a famous actor who appears to be incapable of maintaining any sort of emotional attachment with his family.  Her mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg, made up to look like Asia’s real-life mother, the actress Daria Nicolodi) is an unstable and emotional musician who bitterly feels that she’s sacrificed her career for both her husband and her children.  She spends her time dramatically playing her piano and angrily arguing with the neighbors.

When we first meet Garko and Gainsbourg, they’re shouting at each other while eating dinner, a scene that should be painfully familiar to far too many of us.  It’s not surprising when Gainsbourg and Garko tell their three daughters that they are getting a divorce.  One of the daughters — who is obsessed with the color pink — goes to live with Garko.  Another daughter stays with Gainsbourg.  As for Aria, she finds herself constantly shuttling back and forth between her parents.  The film’s dominant image becomes one of Aria walking down a street, often between homes, while carrying a black cat with her.  (Her cat, by the way, is named Dac.  My black cat is named Doc.  That’s just one of the many things that made me relate to poor Aria.)  Aria is desperate to be loved but she’s almost too desperate.  Even her best friend eventually says that Aria is too clingy.

Misunderstood has been getting mixed reviews here in the States but anyone who has ever had to watch her parents split up will be able to relate to Misunderstood.  As I said, it helps to know that Aria will eventually grow up to be Asia Argento because, otherwise, parts of the film would be almost unbearably sad.  For those unfamiliar with Argento’s previous directorial efforts (Scarlet Diva and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things)it may take a while to get used to her exaggerated directorial style but, ultimately, it must be remembered that the film is not meant to be a literal representation of reality.  Instead, we are seeing things through the prism of the adult Asia’s memories of her dysfunctional childhood.  Asia Argento also proves herself to be a great director of actors and Charlotte Gainsbourg gives an amazing performance as an all-too human monster.

Reading some of the reviews of this film, all I can say is that many critics have misunderstood Misunderstood.  Is Aria always likable?  Of course not.  Does the film occasionally attempt to alienate the audience?  Yes, it does.  However, that’s always been the appeal of Asia Argento.  Largely as a result of the childhood that inspired Misunderstood, she never feels the need to pander as a filmmaker.  For those willing to give the film a chance, Misunderstood is an insightful look at what it’s like to grow up unwanted.  Asia is proving herself to be just as memorable a director as her famous father at his considerable best.

Film Review: Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II (2013, dir. Lars Von Trier)


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I’ll try and keep this short, unlike the movie, which if you watch the director’s cut as I did, comes out to about five and a half hours. Once you’ve sat through something like Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 (1971), which comes out to a little over twelve hours, this isn’t much. Also, despite what I’m going to say about it, it’s problems don’t come from it’s length. A lot of movies damage themselves by going past two hours, but not this one. The length really wasn’t an issue for me.

I’m also not going to pick out all the little stupid things like you see me do with Hallmark movies. Yes, Stellan Skarsgard says the Christian church split up in 1054 into Roman Catholic and Orthodox, but it actually fractured a long time before that break. Or the onscreen text, which you would expect in a Godard film. Especially when Skarsgard brings up Fibonacci numbers. That probably only ticked me off because I went through about nine years of college level computer science and really don’t want to hear about Fibonacci numbers ever again. Also, there’s a scene where she makes one attempt to have sex with black guys. It kind of reminded me of that “documentary” from the early 1970’s called Black Love. It’s there to mention that men are homophobic, but she is implicitly homophobic since sex with a woman is never brought up in this sex addict film. Von Trier also whips out the Two Kinds Of People In The World cliche, but it only makes sense if everyone is right handed. Well, let’s talk about the movie.

First, if you’re a fan of Lars Von Trier, then it’s a no brainer. This movie is for you. Don’t hesitate to watch it. If you are like me and love Breaking The Waves (1996), then this has similar material, but it’s not even remotely as moving. If you were offended by Dogville (2003) like I was, then don’t worry, this isn’t offensive stuff. It’s just boring.

The movie is about a girl named Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who recounts her life as a self proclaimed nymphomaniac to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgad). The movie cuts back and forth between the actual story and then Seligman’s thoughts on it. Kind of like sitting in on a therapy session if it were being conducted by college students in a debate class. And that’s where this film’s biggest issue is for me. A lot of the analysis feels pedestrian or the kind of thing you would expect in a college paper written by a student who hopes the teacher will be impressed. And at times its almost like argument for arguments sake. Like when you’re in a class and a topic is tossed out for discussion. The topic may actually be rather simple, but people keep trying to throw things in to pad out the conversation to fill the class time. A lot of the dialogue feels like that sort of thing.

The story begins when she is a little girl and takes us up to the events that led Seligman to find her in the alley outside of his place at the beginning of the film. Her father is played by Christian Slater who I think does a good job. His British accent may be a problem for you, but it wasn’t for me. Neither was it a problem for me with Shia LaBeouf’s character who is a male presence in Joe’s life pretty much throughout the film. The accent was a problem for me with Uma Thurman’s character though.

There’s a point where Joe just starts referring to the men in her life by letters. She casually tosses them around. During one of these scenes, Uma Thurman shows up as the wife of one of the guys who’s there with Joe along with their kids in tow. The scene is supposed to start a little funny, then get really uncomfortable as it keeps going. Like when Thurman asks if she can show her kids the “whoring bed”. The problem for me was the accent. If they had just let her speak normally, then it would have worked, but it was a voice that at this point in her career is obviously not her’s and I can’t suspend disbelief. So the scene was just hilarious to me. Especially when she actually screams. That made me think of Julianne Moore in Map To The Stars (2014), which also had me laughing.

This film has been dismissed as porn or on the flip side, played up for showing so much. People especially like to mention that the sex is unsimulated. Well, it really doesn’t count in my book if that isn’t Shia LeBeouf’s penis, which it isn’t. They use CGI to graft porn actors genitalia onto some of the actors. So it’s not anything to brag about. Is it porn? Far from it. Anybody who tells you that has no idea what they are talking about. It probably comes closest to an exploitation movie at best in that department.

I said I wouldn’t pick out little flaws, but there’s a big one I have with the title and her consistently referring to herself as either a nymphomaniac or being addicted to sex. She’s not really addicted to sex. She’s addicted to sex like someone who only smokes Marlboro is addicted to cigarettes, but won’t smoke any other brand. She’s like that. She’ll take penetration by a penis, give a blow job, and poorly dabbles in S&M. That’s really it. She’s rather discriminating about what she’ll do. Another analogy is like when someone says they’re a cinephile, but that means to them that they love watching highly acclaimed foreign films. An addiction to something broad like movies or sex means you’re indiscriminate. However, I get why Von Trier sticks with the term nymphomaniac because the movie does have a reason to make sure the apparent love of sex and guilt about it is explicitly associated with a female character. The ending depends on it.

The only thing that was kind of noteworthy to me was how the way the movie is shot changes in the final part of the film. It’s divided into chapters and in the last one Von Trier either shot it to get film grain and over exposed lights or did it in post processing. I think it was probably a reference to a movement in film he was involved in back in the 1990’s called Dogme 95. You can watch something like Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration (1998) and it will look similar.

Honestly, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s really for people who like Von Trier stuff. If you like his stuff, see it. If you don’t, definitely skip it. If you’re totally new, then don’t start here. Begin with Breaking The Waves and Europa (1991) before wading into films like The Idiots (1998), Dancer In The Dark (2000), Dogville, and beyond.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #103: 21 Grams (dir by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)


21_grams_movieRemember how shocked a lot of us were when we first saw Birdman?  Well, it wasn’t just because Birdman featured an underwear-clad Michael Keaton levitating in his dressing room.  And it also wasn’t just because Birdman was edited to make it appear as if it had been filmed in one continuous take (though, to be honest, I would argue that the whole “one continuous shot” thing added little to the film’s narrative and was more distracting than anything else.)  No, the main reason we were shocked was that Birdman was directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and, when we thought of an Inarritu film, we thought of something like 2003’s 21 Grams.

It’s not easy to explain the plot of 21 Grams, despite the fact that 21 Grams does not tell a particularly complicated story.  In fact, if anything, the plot of 21 Grams feels like something that either Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray could have come up with in the 50s.  Indeed, the plot of 21 Grams is far less important than the way the Inarritu tells the story.  (In that, the dark and grim 21 Grams does have something in common with the arguably comedic Birdman.)

Inarritu tells his story out of chronological order.  That, in itself, is nothing spectacular.  Many directors use the same technique.  What distinguishes 21 Grams is the extreme to which Inarritu takes his non-chronological approach.  Scenes play out with deceptive randomness and it is left to the viewer to try to figure out how each individual scene fits into the film’s big picture.  As you watch 21 Grams, you find yourself thankful for little details like Sean Penn’s beard, the varying lengths of Naomi Watts’s hair, and the amount of sadness in Benicio Del Toro’s eyes because it’s only by paying attention to those little details can we piece together how once scene relates to another.

The film tells the story of three people whose lives are disrupted by the type of tragedies that the pre-Birdman Innaritu was best known for.

Sean Penn plays Paul Rivers, who is a sickly mathematician who desperately needs a new heart.  He’s married to a Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who devotes all of her time to taking care of him and is frustrated by Paul’s fatalistic attitude towards his condition.  When Paul does finally get a new heart, he gets a new existence but is haunted by the fact that it has come at the expense of another man’s life.

Christina Peck (played by Naomi Watts) is a former drug addict who is now married with kids and who appears to have the perfect life.  That is until her husband and children are tragically killed and, in her grief, Christina falls back into her old lifestyle.  The formerly stable and happy Christina becomes obsessed with the idea of getting revenge for all that she has lost.  Naomi Watts was deservedly nominated for an Oscar for her work here.  Her vulnerable and emotionally raw performance holds your interest, even when you’re struggling to follow the film’s jumbled chronology.

And finally, there’s Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro).  Like Christina, Jack is a former drug addict.  Whereas Christina used the stability of family life to help her escape from her demons, Jack uses his new-found Christianity.  And just as Christina struggles after she loses her family, Jack struggles after tragedy causes him to lose his faith.  Like Paul, he struggles with why he’s been allowed to live while other have not.  Del Toro was nominated for an Oscar here and, like Watts, he more than deserved the nomination.

(While Sean Penn was not nominated for his performance in 21 Grams, he still won the Oscar for his role in Mystic River.)

21 Grams is a powerful and deeply sad film, one that will probably shock anyone who only knows Inarritu for his work on Birdman.  21 Grams is not always an easy film to watch.  Both emotionally and narratively, it’s challenging.  But everyone should accept the challenge.