Spoiler-freeSmith's disciplined excellence as an actor won me from skepticism to admiration years ago. Since Valerie feels similarly, we both were interested in his recent movie, "Seven Pounds."
In that regard, Smith does not disappoint. This is a tour de force of Smith's focused, mature approach to his craft. Here is an actor who so inhabits his character that you can sense the misery in the character's soul, even when that character is smiling and charming. In other words, he's an actor portraying a man who is acting, and you see that the character is pretending — but it's done with a light, yet convincing, touch. It is a remarkable performance.
All the other actors are fine, particularly Rosario Dawson. The chemistry between the two is important, and it is palpable.
However, this is a very sad movie. Intelligent, layered, deliberate (the unkind word would be "plodding," but we were never bored), involving, dramatic — but very, tragically, sad.
In that regard, I'm forced to liken Seven Pounds to Million-Dollar Baby and Bridge to Terabithia. Trailers suggest that it will be a drama with overtones of mystery and perhaps some romance. It is all of that, but it also is a depressing and (I will argue) senseless tragedy.
I recommend it for the acting and drama; I warn you about the oppressive tragedy, and a touch of sexual immorality.
Totally SpoileryRead no further if you don't want to know the whole thing.
This is the plot, unraveled. Ben Thomas is a decent (if driven) businessman who loves his wife. He has just given her a diamond ring. He is driving with her one night, laughing and enjoying her, and he glances at his BlackBerry.
In that glance, he fails to notice an oncoming car. An accident ensues. Thomas' wife and six other people die.
Thomas is so consumed with misery and remorse that he involves his brother and best friend (unwittingly and wittingly, respectively) in a plan to do sacrificial good for seven people ("seven pounds" of flesh, an allusion to Shakespeare that is not explained in the film) to suit justice for the accident. He will donate bone marrow and other parts of himself while alive. Then he will commit miserable, painful, agonizing suicide-by-jellyfish to donate his heart and eyes to a blind man and a dying woman with whom he has come to share love.
The accident is the result of a momentary oversight. Not drunkenness, drug use, or recklessness. Thomas is not depicted as a bad person. Just eaten alive with relentless grief and misery and guilt for which he finds — and is offered — no relief.
Thomas is a man who badly needs Jesus Christ, and the hope and life and forgiveness that Christ alone provides. But he doesn't know it, and no one tells him, so he murders himself. A woman lives — heartbroken, ironically enough, because of Thomas' heart — and a man sees, but the "hero" is doubly-dead and blind.
So Seven Pounds leaves you sad, and at the same time angry, and feeling that perhaps the filmmakers made you sad just to make you sad.
And gee, what if his little one-time pre-suicide one-nighter left Dawson's character pregnant? Oops, we're not supposed to ask questions like that about Hollywood sex. Because, don't you know, immorality (straight or "gay") is casual, beautiful, and consequence-free.
The DVD promotional site includes a rave review calling this a "life-changing" picture that is "good for the soul." Really? If we take it as a "message" movie, and take the message seriously, then we should all be consumed by hopeless misery, designate ourselves organ donors, get someone to fall in love with us, and then commit suicide.
Real feel-good stuff, that.
Except for the not.
I think the Gospel is literally infinitely better. Christ lays down His life for His own, out of fullness of love for His Father and for us, and not out of a a howling abyss of unresolved (and inappropriate) personal guilt. Further, Christ did not single out people who were worthy of His sacrifice; instead, He targeted the least worth, the least deserving (Luke 5:32; 1 Timothy 1:15; thanks to Mike Leake for that observation). By His death, Christ redeems us, saves us, and gives us eternal life. He bodily rises from the dead, to sit at the Father's right hand, and will come one day to right all wrongs and reign forever.
Now, that is a life-changing message that is really good for the soul.