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Movie Review: "21 Grams"

(and Cub game report)

Imagine, if you will, getting to the ballpark in time for a 1:20 start and finding that the game was in the sixth inning and the score was 11-10.

You'd wonder what had happened to make it that interesting and exciting.

Then the inning would end, and after the inning break it was the bottom of the second. And then the top of the eighth. And then finally it would be the first inning, then the ninth, but it wouldn't end before it was the fifth again and...

That's pretty much what "21 Grams" was. I've seen movies told in flashback before, but this one jumps all over the place. It's an interesting gimmick for a while, but then the gimmick becomes the story and that's too bad, because this is an interesting story, and one that might have been even better if it had been told in straight narrative form.

It's directed by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and this is his first major US released film, with a terrific cast including Oscar-nominated Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro.

I can tell you some of the plot without revealing too much. Watts is an upper-middle-class housewife with a drug problem, which she's getting treatment for, and she has a husband who adores her and two cute-as-a-button daughters.

Del Toro is an ex-con who has discovered Jesus as his salvation for his crimes, and he is also trying to dry out, and he's in and out of prison in the film (and that's part of the problem with jumping back and forth so much -- you can't figure out why he's in prison for what until very late), and he also has two kids, who he rules with an iron fist.

Penn is waiting for a heart transplant. Or not. And has a wife whose sole motivation in the film is to have his child, whether he wants her to or not.

I won't describe the incident which brings these three people together and makes sense of this film, only tell you that you'll go at least 45 minutes into the film saying "HUH?" until it finally makes some sense. In some ways this does help you focus on the story, and IF González Iñárritu had stopped the flashbacks right there, it might have been a terrific way of telling the story. As it was, the gimmick overwhelmed the story and kind of ruined the film for me.

It was shot in a very cold, cinema-verite style which I liked -- washed-out colors and stark landscapes, shot mainly in and around Albuquerque (misspelled as "Alburquerque" in the credits, though that is the correct spelling of the original Spanish city after which the New Mexico city is named), which doesn't often get many feature films, and the contrasts between the way the three principal characters live is, I think, one of the main points of the film.

Anyway, I went to this in part because today's game wasn't on TV or radio, and the Cubs' 4-1 win over the Giants was as orderly as this film was disorderly.

All the runs scored in the second inning, the big blow being a two-run triple by Michael Barrett. It appears that Dusty's not letting his starters go more than two innings in their first outings, and Kerry Wood, though he got the win, did walk three. There's plenty of time for him to settle down. He also had his bat warmed up and had an RBI single.

Tomorrow's game, the third of four consecutive games against the Giants (after which the Cubs do not play them again during the exhibition season), won't be on the radio either, so I'll follow it on the web with the rest of you. Sunday's game is on WGN radio, and the next TV game is next Saturday's.

AYRating (for "21 Grams): ***