Holding himself responsible for an accident that resulted in tragedy, IRS man Ben Thomas (Smith) sets out to help seven strangers who become part of his redemption plan. What he doesn’t count on is that he begins to grow close to one of them, dying cardiac patient Emily Posa (Dawson).
By far Will Smith’s biggest departure from the smart-sassy persona that made him the biggest star on the planet, Seven Pounds is a strange little movie, part puzzle, part love story, part maudlin study
in grief, part odd little indie flick. In outline, it sounds like a miserable Pay It Forward — it’s better than that — but, despite strong moments and interesting visuals, Smith and his Pursuit Of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino never really resolve its various strands into something coherent and satisfying.
Like a morose Pudsey, Thomas’ (Smith) plan is to help seven strangers in need, so we see a somnambulistic Smith wander round hospital wards, fend off his distant brother, build relationships — particularly with Woody Harrelson’s blind pianist, Elpidia Carrillo’s battered mother and Rosario Dawson’s cardiac victim — all the while having the odd flashback to The Terrible Tragedy that has caused his emotional ennui. Taking a march from The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Muccino reflects Thomas’ emotional narcolepsy through dreamy, airy images, all bizarre compositions, rampant overexposure and sloppy focus. But the first half is confused rather than intriguing, and while you sense it will all prove important later, it fails to really engage and illuminate.
Smith is in serious mode, stitching together elements from previous roles: the everyman with normal problems (The Pursuit Of Happyness); the stranger who shakes up people’s lives (Six Degrees Of Separation, Hitch), the tortured misanthrope (Hancock). But unusually for Smith, he can’t give you a way into the character, striking a note of befuddled melancholy without ever making you feel Ben’s pain. However, as he begins to emerge from his stupor through his relationship with Emily (Dawson on good form), the film moves into more conventional territory. This is some of the nicest stuff, and you can see Smith visibly relax.
How Thomas’ masterplan reveals and resolves itself aims to be cathartic and moving, but the first half of the movie hasn’t earned the investment needed for the big emotional finish. It’s a movie that wants to say Big Things about guilt, penance and redemption, but unfortunately can’t muster the insight.
A collage of strong scenes, dull bits, good filmmaking and a dissatisfying emotional payoff. A laudable attempt to tackle heavyweight subject-matter that ends up just being heavy weather.