Will Smith may not actually wear a crown of thorns in Seven Pounds, but you’d be hard pressed to tell from the pained, man of constant sorrow expression he wears throughout the film. Smith and Italian director Gabriele Muccino collaborated on another weepie, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), and they’re completely simpatico. The director builds this somber tale of redemption through self-sacrifice around Smith’s intense, lacerating performance; there actually isn’t much else for Muccino to work with, despite some ponderous plotting from first-time screenwriter Grant Nieporte.
Seven Pounds is structured like a mystery, but fails to deliver the most important requirement of the genre: a satisfying denouement. Nieporte grafts so many quasi-spiritual profundities onto a simple story that it appears he’s aiming for some great transcendent moment when sloppy storytelling is forgiven in a rush of divine understanding. That moment never comes, despite the best efforts of Smith, who wears his suffering like a hair shirt wrapped around his scarred body and shattered heart.
Smith embodies an inquisitive IRS agent named Ben Thomas, yet something seems wrong from the get-go. He rattles off numbers quite easily to the folks he cheerily approaches with the news that they’re being audited, but seems more interested in discussing their medical conditions and determining whether or not they’re “good.” Even though Will Smith employs his trademark charm to woo the hesitant, there’s a palpable hostility embedded in Ben’s concentrated attention, a rage waiting to be unleashed when he’s disappointed or betrayed.
Amazingly, no one raises an objection to an auditor functioning as the morality police, particularly not Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who chides Ben for his lack of tact but feels an instant attraction to this fellow troubled soul. Emily’s finances are in a shambles, her printing business put on hold while she awaits a heart transplant, but her physical frailty and emotional vulnerability don’t keep her from observing that Ben is more than an obsequious functionary. Muccino uses flashbacks to reveal what Emily intuits, that her selfless savior was once a very different man – powerful, driven, and supremely egocentric.
As the portentous Seven Pounds chugs along, buoyed by their fragile romance, Ben emerges as an odd kind of philanthropist: the redeemer as control freak. Everyone wants a piece of him, and the tortured Mr. Thomas must determine who is worthy of receiving communion. He’s more than willing to give of himself. All he asks in return is to be judge, jury, and executioner.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on December 19, 2008 by Columbia Pictures
First published in the Metro Times.