Oh man. What a dissapoinment. “21 Grams” shifted time in story with Sean Penn as an accomplice to project the notion of simultaneously going backward and forward. It was an achievement in storytelling particularly because the dramatic values were so competent. It was a new way to move us, the natural way, by the sheer emotional values, and then literally, by transporting us through time shifts.
Now imagine what this could have been. You had Blanchett as potential accomplice and Pitt who has made smart choices about smart projects in the past. It was supposed to contain larger arcs, politicians and governments, but writer-director opted out in favor of keeping focus on the “people” (read about that here). But alas, it is not people that make people who they are, it is the world in which they live, and a gateway back into ourselves is understanding the abstractions of that world, politicians and governments. So this is residuals of the old Latin story-telling tradition, Italian neorealism, the belief that people alone can drive a narrative.
How could they slip by this, with such rich elements in place. Distinct geographies, distinct cultures, distinct souls, all sacrificed for that one center, the pop assumption that “we are all the same”.
But there are a few things I commend here. The dramatic values are jolting. The emotional impact is violent, almost entirely visceral. There was a destructive force driving events, seemingly incidental.
But in retrospect, the damage is superficial. A sort of virtual reality, felt pain but no world deployed to make it overlap in ours. So when we leave the theater, we leave everything else. The only thing remaining being the sentimental final sequence drowning out any memory of blows. Turns out we were not hit, but only hinted at that we could have been. Indeed, we could have been.