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Your Friendly Neighboorhood Tax Collector is Here to Help
on December 24, 2008
"Seven Pounds" is so smitten with the size of its heart that it never takes the audience's heads into consideration. It tells the story of a man who takes it upon himself to change the lives of seven strangers, all because of his own painful past. For something that was intended to be heartfelt and inspiring, I was shocked at how implausible and self-indulgent it was. I also found it a little creepy; Will Smith's character--IRS agent Ben Thomas--essentially spies on these strangers to make sure that they're decent people. He stares at them while standing in dark corners. He retrieves their personal information from an IRS database. And worst of all, he comes into their lives completely unannounced and then pressures them into following his lead. In return, he asks that he never be tracked down. Does this sound like someone you'd want help from?
I'm forced to go along with the film's ad campaign and not reveal why Ben is compelled to help these people. Let's just say that he has his reasons, and that I understood them. His process: He uses his position of power to get to know specific people, to determine whether or not they're good people that deserve to be helped. What I didn't understand was the ease with which everything was done; there are far too many scenes that defy logic, not the least of which involve Ben casually strolling into areas of hospitals that are normally very secure. Some have speculated that "Seven Pounds" is supposed to be a fable about redemption and sacrifice, meaning that a little suspension of disbelief is required. But I take issue with that, mostly because I'm not entirely convinced that Ben actually redeemed himself at the end of the film. His actions seemed more motivated by guilt than by charity.
Despite the fact that he helps seven people, Ben mostly focuses on Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who's in serious need of a heart transplant. She finds Ben interesting from the very start, which I found impossible to believe. How can she be so interested in a man she knows nothing about? And why would she continue to show an interest when Ben makes it clear that he doesn't want to talk about himself? Their friendship and inevitable romance felt painfully contrived, and it doesn't help that Ben so mysteriously enters and exits her life.
The other six people are so infrequently shown that I'm surprised they were even included. So as not to spoil any crucial plot points, I'll only describe two of them. First, there's Connie Tepos (Elpidia Carrillo), who's too frightened to take her children and leave her abusive boyfriend. Is it enough that we're only told about her abuse and not actually shown it? Second, there's Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), a blind telemarketer and pianist. His blindness is his only handicap, so I'm not too sure why Ben wants to help him so badly. After all, blind people are not automatically helpless. But Ben seems to think that something is wrong, which is why, at the beginning of the film, he tests to see if Ezra will get angry by calling him at work and berating him for being a coward. Personally, I don't see how that would inspire anyone to better themselves.
Emily, Connie, and Ezra, along with three other people, all receive a gift from Ben at one point or another. What he gives them, I'm afraid I can't say. How he does it, I also can't say. What I can say is that it ties in with the title, which I had trouble figuring out before seeing the film.
The filmmakers were aiming for something meaningful, but that's hard to find when the story is buried underneath layers of mystery and melodrama. At a certain point, I no longer cared why Ben wanted to help seven strangers; I didn't care for his methods, and even if I did, none of them were believable to begin with. This brings me to the ending, which would have been touching had it not been for the logistical issues weighing it down. The misguided emotional impact is reflected in Angelo Milli's score, which features a piano solo that continuously hits a completely inappropriate dissonant chord.
I really wanted to like "Seven Pounds." The idea is solid, and goodness knows Will Smith and Rosario Dawson are great actors. But it's too ponderous and enigmatic for its own good; it's so concerned with trying to be deep and complex that it somehow forgot to be either one. It's a strange, problematic film, one that wants us to guess more than it's willing to explain. And when someone can freely impose himself on someone else, as Ben Thomas can, I feel uneasy, and this is despite the fact that he had the best of intentions. I can't give you an idea of what I mean--the mysterious nature of the plot doesn't allow for it. But if you see this film, you'll understand where I'm coming from. Maybe I'm uncomfortable with the idea of resolving personal problems by trying to solve everyone else's. Is such a thing even possible? When you can't even forgive yourself, the last thing you need is to be responsible for someone.