Seven Pounds

Published: .
Updated: .
David Swindle
Grade: A-

"Seven Pounds" is an unorthodox holiday film. If most reviews of the film are considered as evidence, many people probably won't see it in that context. They'll just see a depressing, confusing, unrealistic story whose only connection to the season is that the film's predecessor, "The Pursuit of Happyness" was also released this time two years ago.

Those open to a more spiritual reading might be more satisfied.

In "Seven Pounds" Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, a man on a mission. Just who this man is and what his mission entails will be revealed slowly. The audience does get a big clue right from the start when Ben makes a 911 call alerting the authorities of his suicide. We learn quickly that he's an IRS agent who visits numerous people who are behind on their taxes. He has the power to grant them a six-month extension if he feels their situation warrants it and they deserve it. In this job he takes the opportunity to get to know the people upon whom he's charged to collect.

In his travels he'll encounter Stewart Goodman (Tim Kelleher), a man who runs a nursing home and spends his money on a new car instead of paying his IRS debt. What Ben discovers when he visits Stewart at the nursing home enrages him.

Ben has a different reaction when he comes to collect on Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a young woman with a serious heart condition. Ben sees her differently from Stewart and develops a mysterious friendship with her.

In addition to his IRS work Ben pursues unusual extracurricular activities. He develops an interest in a blind pianist, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), who works in customer service and Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carillo,) a single mother who cannot escape her violent boyfriend.

Throughout his careful planning hovering in the background will be Ben's brother (Michael Ealy,) who is concerned about where his brother is and what he's doing.

Together these people - and several others - will all fit into his plan to redeem himself for an act of carelessness that resulted in the deaths of seven people.

Of many cinematic techniques that I despise one is withholding information about a character's motives. I get frustrated when films decide to spring cheap surprises on us by hiding part of a character from us. It's an error when filmmakers decide to sacrifice character in service of plot.

"Seven Pounds" begins to fall into this trap but is saved because it becomes apparent to anyone with half a brain just what Ben is doing. About a fourth or a third of the way into the film most people should be able to guess the twist ending. This isn't a bad thing.

"Seven Pounds" is likely to frustrate those expecting something realistic. This could never really happen. Ben's plan comes together just a bit too perfectly and the acts he's able to get away with are beyond belief. Further, the person of Ben Thomas is just too out there. People like him don't exist. He just shows up out of nowhere and works miracles. He has almost a transcendent, superhuman quality to him which detaches him from the people he moves amongst.

Does that sound familiar? In "Seven Pounds" Smith plays the central character in a Christ narrative. The film's episodic structure runs parallel to the gospels. Just as Jesus encountered many different kinds of people and worked bizarre miracles, so does Ben Thomas. And in the film's conclusion we see a character sacrifice themselves so that others might live. We even see him at the eleventh hour confront the choice to live a normal life instead of completing his mission - his own last temptation.

This isn't the first time Smith has played this role. Last year's "I Am Legend" also saw him in a sacrificial, Christ-like context. I suspect this won't be the last time we see Smith pick up his cross.

Seen as a drama, "Seven Pounds" really doesn't work. Considered as an emotional parable and a spiritual reflection, it's a deeply satisfying picture and a moving meditation for the season.