DVD Review HTF Review: 21 Grams

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Mar 12, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]

    21 Grams





    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2003
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 125 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: Spanish, and French
    Audio: English – DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1






    Release Date:
    March 16th, 2004




    In any discussion about the most interesting and innovative directors working today, Alejandro González Iñárritu should at least be mentioned, and I think his latest film, the volatile 21 Grams, will help see to it that he is. In my honest opinion, not only was 21 Grams - a free-flowing tale of how one tragic event tears apart the lives of three strangers – one of last year's most compelling and satisfying films, but it was also one the most effectively structured. Apart from general descriptions, however, it is difficult to summarize the plot without revealing details best left secret, so please excuse me if I keep things a little vague.

    Although many films have veered away from the traditional chronological storytelling format over the years, very few have employed the approach so successfully, especially in recent years (though a notable exception is Memento). Personally, even when it doesn’t work, I like this unconventional storytelling method, since it challenges the viewer to pay closer attention to what is transpiring on-screen. Indeed, in that regard, 21 Grams borders on being an interactive experience for the viewer.

    In terms of characters, we know that the film involves the effect of a particular event on three people, so let’s take a brief look at them. One third of the trio of leads is Paul Rivers (Sean Penn), a mathematician who is battling a very serious heart condition. As the character is introduced, we see that the relationship between he and his wife Mary (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is almost as terminal as he is, but she refuses to end their marriage with Paul in such poor physical condition. Instead, she decides to have his child, which he will not live long enough to see (and doesn’t seem too thrilled about), via artificial insemination.

    The second of the three main characters, named Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), is a former criminal who has since reformed himself and become a devout Christian. Despite holding fast to his religious beliefs, however, glimpses of Jack’s fiery temperament can be seen, especially during a couple of sequences when he is at home with his family.

    The final member of the trio is Christine Peck (Naomi Watts), a happily married woman raising two lovely girls with her husband. Though Christine’s former troubled existence, and drug use, is alluded to, the daily routine of married life seems to have provided her with serenity and comfort.

    Getting back to the manner in which the story is told, I cannot overstate how well Iñárritu’s trademarked non-linear storytelling method works in this film. By piecing selected events in the three main character’s lives together in this manner, this story grabs viewers’ attention from the opening scene and never lets go. Indeed, 21 Grams is almost like a mosaic of scenes that switches between time periods, and characters’ perspectives, with frequency. Initially, this approach may be confusing, but it slowly becomes apparent that Mr. Iñárritu is using this unconventional method to converge the characters’ past, present, and future around the single moment in time that binds them.

    Given that the story jumps around so much, I think editing is key, and 21 Grams is stitched together brilliantly. Iñárritu gives us only what is necessary, in terms of what the characters have experienced, and where they are headed emotionally, to propel the story forward. As such, almost every minute of this film is equally riveting. More importantly, although the viewer is taken through different times in each characters life, these fragmented timelines are woven together slowly enough to reveal how the characters' worlds are brought together without causing confusion.

    Shifting gears, as brilliant as the writing and direction are in 21 Grams, each of the three actors playing a main character turns in an absolutely mesmerizing performance. For example, although Sean Penn received an Oscar®, for his magnificent work in Mystic River, it is hard to argue that he is not as good or better in this film. Penn’s performance is definitely subtler as Paul Rivers, but this is understandable as the character is a sick man faced with his own mortality, and dealing with the fact that he only lives because someone else has died.
    Paul fights similar moral battles to those facing Penn's character in Mystic River, but the differences lie in the way these characters are developed by each director.

    Rising star Naomi Watts, tabbed to star in Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, also turns in what is easily her most substantial and significant performance to date. To her credit, she gives this demanding and somewhat non-glamorous role, which is chock full of emotionally wrenching situations, her all. Indeed, her performance is so realistic, and so seamless that it really helps project the Christina’s every emotion.

    Rounding out the cast of principal characters is Academy Award® winner Benicio Del Toro, whose acting chops are no less impressive than those of Ms. Watts or Mr. Penn, even though his character is probably the least varied. Nevertheless, Jack is a man who has turned himself away from a life of crime through faith, and Del Toro's portrayal of this is extremely sincere. I thought the manner in which he calls his faith into question once tragedy strikes was equally convincing.

    As if the solid direction, memorable performances, and masterful editing were not enough, the deliberate style of 21 Grams adds yet another dimension to this outstanding film. Shot in a dark and gritty fashion, with a subdued color palette, and featuring a very sparse score, Inárritu uses the elements of sight and sound carefully, to create an appropriately somber tone. Thus, in some respects, this film is stylistically similar to Iñárritu's Amores Perros, which also treats with the darker side of human nature and unfolds in a non-chronological fashion. Unlike Amores Perros, however, 21 Grams is a more optimistic story, in spite of its tragedies, because the characters are more “real”, and thus easier to sympathize with. Of course, they are not people without flaws, but their situations could just as easily be our own, so we can identify with them, and perhaps even feel empathy for them.

    To sum things up, aside from its somewhat unsatisfying narrative ending, 21 Grams is a great film on every level. In particular, the acting in this film left me completely floored, as these three bona-fide movie stars completely receded into their respective “average person” characters. Add to that Alejandro González Iñárritu’s intriguing storytelling method, appropriate stylistic choices, and a solidly written script, and you have all the ingredients for a very special film.
    In fact, other than the ending, the only thing I did not like about the movie is its title, which for some reason brought images of B-movies about martial artist cops busting up drug rings to mind. Anyway, since it is not up to me to come up with a better title [​IMG] , let me close by saying that title notwithstanding, 21 Grams was among the most moving and wonderful movie-going experiences I had outside of The Return of the King in 2003, so I whole-heartedly recommend it.





    So, How Does It Look?
    Presented by Universal in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 21 Grams, retains its dark, gritty look on DVD. With a few exceptions, the image is quite detailed, despite the fair amount of grain present. Additionally, as in the theater, colors are slightly de-saturated, and blacks are deep and fairly well defined, so shadow detail is better than average. Better still, I did not notice the application of edge enhancement, which is always a good thing.

    Another positive is that the print used for this transfer appeared to be free of any specks or debris. Honestly, 21 Grams looked (to my eyes) a lot like it did in the cinema on my RPTV. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that even though they may not be pretty at times, the images on this DVD stay true to the look desired by Alejandro Iñárritu, and this is just as it should be.




    What Is That Noise?
    21 Grams is offered in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel surround sound (English), and given the atmospheric, subdued nature of the source material, you will probably not be surprised when I tell you that either choice is a good one. As usual (when it is available), I selected DTS for this review, but in switching between the two, I noticed only moderately better imaging and slightly more natural vocal timbres from the DTS track.

    Getting down to brass tacks, most of the audio information in this film is presented via the front and center channels, and this presentation is handled quite well, overall. Specifically, dialogue sounds just as it should – warm, natural, and hiss-free. The eerie score also comes across fine, as do micro-dynamic audio details, thanks to a smooth frequency response and appropriately moody soundstage.

    As I inferred above, the rear channels do not play a very active role in this film, but do provide some subtle ambience on occasion. Similarly, the .1 channel does not come into play very often, but bass response is tight and punchy in the very few instances that call for it. All in all, I suppose this is not among the most dynamic tracks you will hear, but the source material is handled adeptly, and in the end that is what matters.

    NOTE: A French 5.1 track is also included.




    Extras, Extras!!!


    There are no extras included, not even the trailer! Extras for Timecop 2: The Berlin Decision and Tremors 4, but nothing for 21 Grams??? What gives?!?!? Shame on you Universal!



    The Score Card
    Movie: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras:
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    The Last Word
    In my opinion, very few films released last year were as fascinating or memorable as 21 Grams. Magnificently acted and directed, as well as intellectually challenging, it is that scarce cinematic experience that stays on your mind long after it has ended, potentially giving rise to some powerful and thoughtful discussions. Moreover, this film rewards repeat viewings, and to fully appreciate its complexity you will probably have to watch it a few times. In my case, I watched it twice for this review even though I had seen it before, and not only was I happy to do so, but I am sure I will revisit it again soon to gain an even fuller appreciation of the performances by the Del Toro, Penn, and Watts.

    On the other hand, despite the complete lack of extras, the overall presentation is good. I am at peace with the fact that 21 Grams is not a stunning film from a technical standpoint, because its visuals and sound are geared more towards serving the story than impressing the viewer. Still, the soundtrack was reproduced in an effective manner, and the inclusion of DTS is a plus. I also found image quality to be more than satisfying. The only real disappointment is the complete lack of extras [​IMG] , which is a shame considering that the film has been so well received.

    All things considered though, I suppose 21 Grams is a good enough film to warrant purchasing this DVD anyway, so although I cannot give it my highest recommendation, I suggest picking it up. That way, at least you can enjoy this film until the “Special”, “Collector’s”, or “Ultimate” edition is announced, at which point you can always sell off this one and make the cost of double-dipping less painful! [​IMG] Recommended!!!


    Stay tuned…
     
  2. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the fine review, Jason. My copy arrived early, so perhaps this weekend is a good time for screening it.
     
  3. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    Nice review Jason.

    21 Grams was one of the better films of 2003.

    While I thought the constant time jumps were gimmicky and totally unnecessary (and is very overused nowadays), the story and great performances make it a solid film.

    I still found his previous work Amores Perros to be the better film, but this is definitely worthy of at least a rental - and a pretty-safe blind purchase for those who enjoyed Amores Perros.

    It's almost a guarrantee that there'll be an SE in the future for this title.
     
  4. Adrian Correia

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    I think that because all of the principals have been so busy, they probably had no time to produce extras.
     
  5. chris_clem

    chris_clem Second Unit

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    This is a great film and I've already ordered my copy.[​IMG]

    As I've said in another thread though, they probably rushed this DVD to capitalize on the Oscar heat. I suspect a double dip somewhere along the line but that's fine by me since I've double dipped for far lesser films in the past!:b Besides, no special features and a DTS track? I'll just think of it as a Superbit title[​IMG]
     
  6. chris_clem

    chris_clem Second Unit

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    This is a great film and I've already ordered my copy.[​IMG]

    As I've said in another thread though, they probably rushed this DVD to capitalize on the Oscar heat. I suspect a double dip somewhere along the line but that's fine by me since I've double dipped for far lesser films in the past!:b
     
  7. Tom Tsai

    Tom Tsai Supporting Actor

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    Guys, does anyone have the Canadian version of this film? On the back of the Canadian version, it says that it only has English DD5.1 and French 2.0. At first, I thought that they replaced the DTS track with a French track like they did with The Running Man...but after seeing this review, it looks like the US version already has a French 5.1 track...so I don't know why they would remove the DTS track. Is it a misprint on the packaging?

    Tom
     
  8. Bill J

    Bill J Producer

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    I'm surprised that there isn't even a trailer on the disc, which can be seen as a forced trailer before Lost in Translation. This does not seem like a title that would get special edition treatment, so I would be surprised if we see one.
     
  9. Tom Tsai

    Tom Tsai Supporting Actor

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    Just an update on the Canadian version of 21 Grams. I opened my copy and it DOES have the DTS track. It's just a misprint on the packaging.
     
  10. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    Thanks Tom, you just saved me an annoying and awkward cancellation... [This week I received two discs of more minor 2003 releases, they were theatrically WS (duh!) and the DVD presentation was P&S, so my tolerance for DVD screw-ups is at an all-time low.]
     
  11. Tom Tsai

    Tom Tsai Supporting Actor

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    no problem Craig [​IMG]
     
  12. ChrisMatson

    ChrisMatson Cinematographer

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    Has there been any hard information on a special edition coming? I know that some previously announced supplemental material was pulled at the last minute for this DVD release. I missed this in the theater and was strongly considering a blind buy, but I don't like to double-dip if a better version is on the horizon.
     
  13. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Just watched this today with utmost anticipation
    as I had heard so much about it over the past
    few months.

    The film did not disappoint, though it seems to
    come directly out of the Memento school of
    incoherent filmmaking
    . For the first hour
    I had absolutely no clue what was going on -- and
    neither will you.

    But that's a good thing!

    What I really loved most about this film is that
    it played like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces are
    initially strewn all over the table. The film
    keeps you riveted as each jigsaw piece is fit
    together until the puzzle is finally revealed in
    the final moments of the film.

    In fact, I was so intrigued by this film that I
    wanted to know more about it. That's where the
    troubles began. There are no Special Features
    to be be had on this disc. Perhaps yet another
    puzzle?

    DO take the opportunity to see this
    outstanding film.
     
  14. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    Ron,

    Since you liked this, I highly recommend watching (if you haven't already) the director's first feature Amores Perros - which is a Mexican film. Even better than 21 Grams in my opinion.
     
  15. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    this is coming out on friday in the UK so I plan to watch this very much

    [​IMG]
     
  16. Nick Sievers

    Nick Sievers Producer

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    My thoughts exactly, Marc. I liked 21 Grams but not to the extent of Amores Perros which is just superb filmmaking on every level. Iñárritu has a solid future in filmmaking if he keeps this up.
     
  17. Holadem

    Holadem Lead Actor

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    I also prefer Amores Perros, but 21 Grams is (almost) just as great.

    I will readily admit that 21 Grams is technically superior. However, because it is much more focused, it is as dark and opressive as the subject matter indicates. Amores Perros was certainly no comedy either, but it dealt with a broader range of emotions and subject matters like adultery, father/daughter, redemption, jealousy etc...

    --
    H
     
  18. Paul Chi

    Paul Chi Stunt Coordinator

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    I rented this film tonight and thought it was amazing. The acting performances are top notch, especially by Naomi Watts. The film is very emotional and sometimes hard to watch but what a great film.
     
  19. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Just ordered it from Lasers Edge. Thanks Marc.
     
  20. ClaytonMG

    ClaytonMG Stunt Coordinator

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    Just to let Bill J know, there are Focus Features forced trailers when you put in the disc (they always say how they're supperior and crap). Anyway, I saw the film last night, I loved it. Very unique. My only complaint about the film is the
    Pissible spoiler:
    Naomi Watts drug issue.
    I felt like that was just kind of tossed into the movie. It probably would've been better if they expanded on it a little more. But other than that it was an amazing film and everyone should check it out.

    Clayton
     

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