Plot spoilage has become a cultural epidemic among film critics, who are-between those being paid, those blogging, and anyone with an opinion-pretty much every moviegoer on the planet. But to deal much with the plot of this season’s Will Smith vehicle, Seven Pounds, would be just plain morally dubious. Here is a tale that relishes its secrets and keeps its backstory (at least the specifics of it) under lock and key until just the right time.
Suffice it to say, as haunted IRS auditor Ben Thomas, the eminently likeable, but somehow not very deep Smith is up to his old tricks laid out in The Pursuit of Happyness (also directed by Gabriele Muccino) and Hancock. In all these films, Smith musters up what empathy he can in a role as a shaggy dog or compromised hero seeking resolution. The path to resolution and redemption comes about oddly in Seven Pounds, where we have a protagonist working out a complex, but also narrative-wise gimmicky plan for paying forward for perceived sins.
Smith’s presence onscreen is reliable, if a bit shy of the kind of nerve-rattled vulnerability that could have given his character greater dimension. Then again, Grant Nieporte’s script doesn’t allow much room for verisimilitude. In this film, the real powerhouse is Smith’s love interest, Rosario Dawson (Grindhouse, Sin City), who radiates intensity and inner warmth in her first leading role in a major motion picture. Here, she plays what she calls a “girl with the broken wing,” a strong and sensitive woman afflicted by a congenitally bad heart.
Seven Pounds is a melodrama-a good one, achieving its tear-jerker moments-but it tires too hard to disguise itself as something greater. Ambiguities so treasured along the way are neatly wrapped up by movie’s end, and we’ve been so skillfully sucked into caring about the emotions of the characters that it may be only in post-viewing reflection that we stop and realize the contrivance here. But if you can summon forgiving holiday spirit and keep from thinking too hard about the thing, Seven Pounds becomes a movie with its heart in the right places.