Will Smith may not actually wear a crown of thorns in Seven Pounds, but you'd be hard pressed to tell from the pained, man of constant sorrow expression he wears throughout this somber tale of redemption through self-sacrifice. Smith and Italian director Gabriele Muccino collaborated on another holiday weepie, The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), and they're completely simpatico. Muccino builds the film around Smith's emotionally raw performance, but despite some heavy plot machinations, he actually doesn't have much else to work with.
First-time screenwriter Grant Nieporte structures Seven Pounds like a mystery, but fails to deliver the most important requirement of the genre: a satisfying denouement. With so many quasi-spiritual profundities grafted onto this simple story, it could be argued that Nieporte's aiming for that great transcendent moment when sloppy plotting is forgiven in a rush of divine understanding. Despite the best efforts of Smith, who wears his suffering like a hair shirt, close to his scarred body and shattered heart, that moment never comes.
Smith embodies an inquisitive IRS agent named Ben Thomas, but something seems wrong right away. He rattles off the numbers quite easily to the people he cheerily approaches to announce that they're being audited, but seems more interested in discussing their medical conditions and determining whether or not they're "good." Even though Smith employs his trademark charm to woo the hesitant, there's a palpable hostility to Ben's concentrated attention, a rage waiting to be unleashed when he's disappointed or betrayed.
Surprisingly, no one objects to an auditor functioning as the morality police, especially not Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who chides Ben for his lack of tact but feels an instant attraction to this fellow troubled soul. Emily's finances are in a shambles, her printing business on hold while she awaits a heart transplant, but her vulnerability doesn't blind her from seeing that Ben is more than an obsequious functionary. In flashbacks, Muccino reveals what Emily intuits; that her selfless savior was once a very powerful, driven and self-centered man.
As the portentous Seven Pounds chugs along, buoyed by the fragile romance between Emily and Ben, he emerges as an odd kind of philanthropist: the redeemer as control freak. Everyone wants a piece of him, and the tortured Mr. Thomas must determine who's worthy of receiving this communion. He's willing to give of himself, and all he asks in return is to be judge, jury, and executioner.
Serena Donadoni writes about film and culture for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.