"Seven Pounds" sets itself up as a mysteryto be cagey, the first fifteen minutes are told out of sequence, full of flashbacks and flashforwards that knock the viewer off-balancebut it's not a very convincing one. Anyone paying even partial attention should gather up enough clues in the first act to figure out where things are headed. The knowledge of what is to happen hinders rather than helps the outcome because all that is left to do is await the inevitable. It doesn't help that the supporting characters and the glimpses into their lives are decidedly more dynamic than the mopey central protagonist and his own motives.
The film opens with Ben Thomas (Will Smith) calling 911 and reporting his own suicide. From there, details of his life, past and present, are revealed. He has tragically lost his wife. He is staying at a motel in lieu of the luxurious beach house he owns. He spends his days choosing innately good people in tough spots personally or physicallyseven of them, to be exactand then helping them in whatever way he knows how. One man, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), is a blind beef salesman. When Ben calls him up and verbally accosts them, Ezra, mild-mannered as always, doesn't so much as raise his voice in return. A single mother, Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carrillo), is in an abusive relationship and must decide to either flee or die. Ben gives her his business card and urges her to use it if she needs help.
And then there's Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a young woman suffering from congenital heart failure who knows her death is imminent unless a donor is found. Ben introduces himself as an IRS agent and, upon freezing her account and giving her a break on her debt, gradually befriends her. Emily is taken by Ben's kindness, unaware that their initial meeting was not really business-related. For Ben, he sees in Emily the possibility to love again. Before long, she is making dinner for him and they are dancing together on the back porch. They could be very happy together, if only things were different.
Directed by Gabriele Muccino (2006's "The Pursuit of Happyness
"), "Seven Pounds" works best when the focus is on the people whom Ben has chosen to help. The plot, telegraphed in advance despite the intention to surprise, gets in the way of their stories. Rosario Dawson (2008's "Eagle Eye
") is particularly touching as Emily Posa, a sick woman who knows her days are numbered and regrets all of the things she wanted to do with her life that she is never going to get the chance to experience. Dawson blesses Emily with the correct medley of sadness, strength and vulnerability. It is her that we remember and think of fondly when the end credits have rolled. In a smaller but still effective role, Woody Harrelson (2008's "Sleepwalking
") is terrific as Ezra, a friendly but lonely man who tries not to let his lack of sight get in the way of living.
Will Smith (2008's "Hancock
") emotes the heartache that Ben Thomas has in him simply through his frowning eyes, and that's his secret weapon. The character, however, is more problematic. From the start, he has already made up his mind about what he believes he should do, but in his journey to what he perceives as redemption is an unchanging arc and the inability to change. His acts of kindness, then, do not really come from the goodness of his heart so much as out of obligation. His actions in the climax are at once brave and cowardly, and what he is ultimately able to do demands a suspension of disbelief on the viewer's part. It all comes off as just a little too neat and manipulative to deliver the emotional force director Gabriele Muccino and screenwriter Grant Nieporte are striving for.
With the mystery guessed nearly from the start, "Seven Pounds" goes on to become more of a romantic drama with tearjerker aspirations. Had the film concentrated more on the relationship between Ben and Emily, two souls wounded in different ways, and less on the machinations of the plot, it might have held a certain truth and beauty. Those elements, instead, are rendered as asides to the unbending story of a man who has seen the abyss and chosen to stay there. The decision to score the final scene to an onscreen children's chorus singing a cover of Herman's Hermits' "Something Tells Me I'm Into Something Good" is also ill-considered. Besides being inextricably linked to 1988's spoof extraordinaire "The Naked Gun," the lyrics don't exactly lend themselves to an elementary school choir ("I walked her home and she held my hand/I knew it wouldn't be just a one-night stand"). It comes dangerously close to earning a bad laugh when laughter should be the farthest thing from the viewer's mind.