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dir Gabriele Muccino
scr Grant Nieporte
with Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson, Michael Ealy, Barry Pepper, Elpidia Carrillo, Judyann Elder, Joe Nunez, Robinne Lee, Gina Hecht, Bill Smitrovich, Tim Kelleher
release US 19.Dec.08, UK 16.Jan.09
08/US Columbia 2h05
Dog day afternoon: Dawson and Smith
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Sleekly made but deeply flawed, this introspective drama features a terrific performance from Smith. But as the convoluted structure finally reveals the actual plot, it brings with it the unmistakable whiff of a vanity project.
Ben Thomas (Smith) is a tax man who seems to be stalking people rather than investigating them. He lurks by the bed of Emily (Dawson) as she waits for a heart transplant. He makes taunting calls to Ezra (Harrelson), who's blind. He offers new life to the battered Connie (Carrillo). He also dodges his brother (Ealy) and is making some sort of nefarious plan with his friend Dan (Pepper). But who are these people, and what connects them in Ben's mind? It's seemingly linked to a tragic car crash. And the number seven.
Director Muccino and writer Nieporte withhold every key speck of information until they're ready to let us into what's going on. We do figure it out eventually, but the result of the swirling, out-of-sequence editing, however beautifully done, is that we are unable to engage emotionally with what is ultimately a hugely emotive story. The acting is great, especially from Smith, but since we have no real idea what's going on in his head, it can't connect with us in a meaningful way.
Early on, we begin to understand that Ben's plan involves helping people in their moment of deepest need. This admirable theme echoes films like Pay it Forward, which stress selflessness and community involvement. So it's doubly frustrating that the script contrives to link financial, emotional and physical needs, but only addresses some of them. There's also the problem of how Ben decides to help people, judging them on whether they deserve it, as if his simplistic investigations actually reveal anything.
In other words, for all its touchy-feely sentimentality, solid production values and textured performances, this film is painfully shallow. It's also completely awash in earnest worthiness, especially when Ben demonstrates mechanical wizardry, outrageous pain tolerance, deep romanticism and the ultimate sacrifice, all within one 24-hour day. It's extremely strong stuff, and some audiences will be caught up in the emotion of it all, but beneath the surface, it may be more about the canonisation St Will.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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