To say that Will Smith’s latest film has him playing yet another character of conviction would be an understatement. Another way would be “Don’t try this at home, kids.”
Ben Thomas (Will Smith) has a plan. He is seeking individuals that fit a certain criteria, people who need help but are either unable to find it or ask for it, kind souls who deserve a second chance in their lives. Ignoring calls from his concerned brother (Michael Ealy) and making shadowy pacts with reluctant friends (Barry Pepper), only Emily (Rosario Dawson) seems to have any success of breaking through the walls Ben has surrounded himself with. Riddled with guilt and haunted by a former life, does Ben dare to jeopardize his conviction by letting his guard down even for a moment?
The rule of drama is that there is no solution, only dealing with the reality of “what is.” Stories like Seven Pounds test that theory because it there is the potential for change; the “no solution” clause isn’t an incurable disease or a natural disaster, it’s an individual who holds themselves to their own conviction. So, not only does the character have to deal with what is, it is a circumstance of their own making in addition to dealing with the reasons for making them (get all that?) Without giving too much away, Will Smith is convincing on both levels, and the toll of self-imposed guilt and responsibility is a tangible thing.
Of course, it would be useless to have “superstar” Will Smith heading up a cast if there weren’t a few moments of comic relief (and this story needs a few), but most of those go to Rosario Dawson trying in vain to charm Smith’s character. It’s hard to tell if the chemistry really exists or not, because Dawson could convince you she’s in love with a wooden post and Smith exudes charm even when he’s snoring. But here’s a secret: this is a bigger part of the plot than the advertising lets on, and it’s a good thing to have it here since the rest is more than a little bit depressing.
The mystery and intrigue built up in the previews is all in the film, and while the premise may seem a bit far fetched, it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to piece what’s happening together. Others are involved in “the plan” as well (like Woody Harrelson’s character), but most of that is secondary to the current phase specific to the running time of the film. More important is the why, and even those notions are challenged every time Rosario Dawson smiles. There seems to be lot of backlash about this film stretching credibility or being too melodramatic, but it’s no more of a stretch than a man who ages backwards or a billionaire dressed like a giant bat. Just be warned: it’s going for the heartstrings, folks.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)