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'Seven Pounds': Life, Death and Other Heavy Things

Happiness Pursued: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is a mysterious do-gooder out to help people with serious problems. Columbia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Columbia Pictures

Happiness Pursued: Ben Thomas (Will Smith) is a mysterious do-gooder out to help people with serious problems.

Columbia Pictures

Seven Pounds

  • Director: Gabriele Muccino
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 113 minutes

Rated PG-13: Sexual situations, a car crash, possible suicide.

Watch Clips

'A Big Favor'

'This Is Not Easy'

'I Need A Favor'

Life And Love: Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) complicates Ben's master plan when she falls for him. Columbia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Columbia Pictures

Life And Love: Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) complicates Ben's master plan when she falls for him.

Columbia Pictures

On Edge: Ben Thomas is on the brink of suicide at the beginning of the film — but how the setup plays out is the real kicker. Columbia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Columbia Pictures

On Edge: Ben Thomas is on the brink of suicide at the beginning of the film — but how the setup plays out is the real kicker.

Columbia Pictures

Because it begins with a 911 report of an imminent suicide, it's instantly clear that Seven Pounds will address matters of life and death.

Yet exactly what the story has to say about mortality can't be revealed.

This is a whydunit rather than a whodunit, so discussing the movie's premise would spoil the payoff. That kicker upstages everything else, and audiences will probably respond — both favorably and unfavorably — to the film's conclusion more than to its performances or direction.

A few things can be disclosed. The man who calls 911 is Ben Thomas (Will Smith), and the imminent suicide is his own.

But is this opening scene a fantasy, a nightmare, or a strand of alternate reality that can be severed before it ends the main character's life?

We don't even know for sure that Ben Thomas is the man's real name, or that he's actually what he claims: an IRS investigator. Ben has several active cases, yet he doesn't appear very interested in taxes. All of the people he's auditing have serious health problems, and Ben seems to be contemplating giving them breaks that are worth a lot more than a filing-date extension.

Of the seven people on Ben's list, he spends most of his time with three: a battered woman (Connie Tepos) with two young children, a blind pianist (Woody Harrelson) who works for a call center and an artisan printer with congenital heart failure.

That last person is Emily (Rosario Dawson), who complicates Ben's life by falling in love with him. Other than childhood pal Dan (Barry Pepper), Ben has no friends, and it briefly seems that his new entanglement with Emily will cause Ben to delay or change his master plan — whatever it is.

Seven Pounds was directed by Italian filmmaker Gabriele Muccino, who also supervised Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness. Using handheld camera, cluttered framing and narrow depth of field, he gives the movie a messy European look. Some of the visuals are just for show, but on the whole the jangled imagery suits Ben's sense of urgency.

While Smith neither directs nor writes his films, Seven Pounds again demonstrates that he is their auteur. The movie may shock some of his fans, but it fits a well-established pattern.

Which is to say that Ben Thomas is a well-meaning impostor, a persona that echoes not only The Pursuit of Happyness but also Smith's breakthrough movie role in Six Degrees of Separation. Ben is also, in a sense, a damaged superhero, like the title character of Hancock.

Above all, Ben is a benevolent control freak, the sort of godlike champion Smith has played in films both serious and quite silly.

Exactly how these qualities play out in Seven Pounds must remain classified, but reactions to the movie will largely depend on whether or not viewers decide this time that the divine Mr. Smith has overreached.

I say he has — but I can't tell you why.

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