The movie begins with a gunshot but no one knows where it has gone. There are three characters in the room where the gun has been fired and they are linked to each other. This is the whole premise of the story. 21 Grams deals with the issue of death and is the second in the series of films the first being Amores Perros and the last one being Babel. They don’t deal with death directly they go about it in several circuitous ways. In this one, the whole film is written in a non-linear format. It is one of the few films that made this writing form very fashionable. There have been many films that have now used it to bring more powerful stories but none of them have come close. Unlike Pulp Fiction, it is constrained by reality and not by the dictates of existentialism. There is a definite beat with which this movie goes about revealing certain character graphs in the film.
It was released during the same time Mystic River came out. It was a far superior film and also had one of the most defining performances in cinematic history. Naomi Watts scorches the screen with her portrayal of a mother who is coming to terms with the death of her two children and her husband. The other actor who raises the bar for moral conduct and calls his car a gift from Jesus is the convert Benicio Del Toro. He steals the show in many of the moments in the movie. But it is Sean Penn who proves to be the real star in this film he gives a lot of sensitivity and composure to this role that he is known for. One of my favorite moments is when he calls his heart a culprit after a heart transplant. But many of the outbursts by Naomi Watts are some of the high points in 21 Grams.
But all this looks too small in front of the power of what the writer has done to this film. He could have gone the linear way and made a powerful film. Instead, he risked it all and brought in a non-linear narrative so that the audience doesn’t get close to these characters but instead gives the feelings they produce more importance. The way Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu constructs the story allows him to give the viewer a sense of where various characters are at the same time without the appearance of repetition. The themes that bring about death and are always closely related to it our happiness, revenge, self-doubt, and sometimes free thinking. So, combining all these themes to bring across one of the most organic films I have seen on the silver screen.