Looking back on Will Smith’s body of work, it’s clear that he is a more-than-capable actor in both action-oriented (“I am Legend,” “Hancock”) and dramatic roles, and of course, comedic ones (“Hitch,” “Focus”). But in Italian director Gabriele Muccino “Seven Pounds,” Smith is cast against type as a much more tragic character than we’re used to seeing.
In Muccino’s 2008 drama, Smith plays Ben Thomas, an IRS agent with a big secret. Ben is on a mission to be of service to seven total strangers in order to pay off a debt of penance. He blames himself for the death of his beloved wife because of some cellphone fumbling while driving.
The film attempts to be intriguing by leaving us with questions: Why does Ben set up shop in a run-down motel room? Why does he have jellyfish as pets?
One thing is for sure: Much of the film’s lengthy, two-plus-hour runtime drags because viewers are almost expected to develop feelings for Ben and for those whose lives he touches. There’s the sad, blind telemarketer Ezra (Woody Harrelson in a ridiculous-looking mullet wig); a poor domestic violence victim, Connie (Elpidia Carrillo); a social worker with cirrhosis of the liver, Holly (Judyann Elder); and so on. Each of these strangers is introduced when Ben drops in on them to see if they’re worthy of receiving his mysterious gifts.
From set to set, we are transported in a revolving carousel of misery: a run-down house, a seedy bar, a dreary hospital. Each place seems more depressing than the last. The seven characters not only have problems but also are awaiting some sort of termination of their lives because of different illnesses.
What is Ben’s secret, and what is his ultimate goal?
Too Much Manipulation
Because of the stilted performances and saccharine score, I frankly didn’t care what those answers were.
Normally, I enjoy Smith as an actor. He was fantastic in films such as “I am Legend” and fun to watch in “Hancock,” and any of the “Men in Black” films, to name a few. However, he just wasn’t believable as a morose taxman.
And although Muccino tried to set the film up in a mysterious fashion, it comes off as disjointed more than anything else. Overall, the emotional parts of the movie seem manipulative. The low-spirited piano plunking and the obligatory cello strumming signal that viewers are supposed to feel sad.
Some of the most obvious examples of these types of scenes are the many slow-mo shots of Ben’s wife looking forlorn, or in long shots of Ben sitting down somewhere with sorrowful, tear-laden eyes. By the end of the film, I wondered how many bottles of teardrops the production crew went through.
While I feel that Smith was sadly miscast in this wannabe tear-jerker, the supporting actors aren’t entirely believable either. Harrelson in his goofy wig has the opposite effect, a guffaw, of what was intended. And that’s coming from a big fan of his.
“Seven Pounds” might have a decent message buried somewhere in its overly long, tear-drenched script, but by the time the film ends, I’d had enough of warm, fuzzy, and syrupy cinema, and felt highly manipulated. The only thing that I came away with, after the end credits rolled, was that it’s bad to fiddle with cellphones while driving.
I don’t think two hours and three minutes of my life was needed to learn that.
Director: Gabriele Muccino
Starring: Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, Woody Harrelson
Running Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 19, 2008 (USA)
Rated: 2 stars out of 5