21 Grams (2003) is the second in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Death Trilogy.” Like Amores Perros, 21 Grams centers around a car crash that binds the lives of three people who would otherwise be strangers. There’s not much I can say about the plot without giving it away, except that the three involved are a man dealing with a terminal illness (Sean Penn), a woman who is on a downward spiral with drugs and alcohol (Naomi Watts), and an ex-con struggling with his faith in God (Benicio del Toro). I will say, however, that should you decide to see this movie, it won’t take you long to figure out how their lives become connected.
I’ve revealed before my penchant for non-linear storytelling in movies – Amores Perros being one of those that I love – but it really didn’t work for me here. Whereas Amores Perros spends a good amount of time with the characters in each story, 21 Grams spends maybe five minutes with each section before moving on to the next. I realize the context of the stories in these two movies is different, but I found the constant switching between characters and points in time wasn’t anything more than a distraction. If the point of this was to keep the audience guessing, it was undermined by the otherwise simplicity of the plot and it robbed us of the opportunity to really connect with any of the characters.
I know it’s unfair of me to compare this movie to the other two in the trilogy – or maybe it’s entirely justified, since I’m not the one grouping them together – but I can’t help but think about how surprised I was by the depth and complexity of the first and third films. Whereas Amores Perros and Babel focus on the absurdity in the everyday, 21 Grams is focused solely on a cataclysmic event. To me, it is always more compelling to see a story about the seemingly normal than a story about the absurd or extraordinary. The actors did a fair job here, but I was ultimately bored by the storyline.
Next up: Babel. Let’s see if it lives up to my memory.