21 Grams (2003)

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Released 5-Aug-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio & Animation
Dolby Digital Trailer-Rain
Featurette-21 Grams: In Fragments
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 119:05
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alejandro González Iñárritu
Studio
Distributor

Roadshow Home Entertainment
Starring Sean Penn
Naomi Watts
Benicio Del Toro
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Melissa Leo
Clea DuVall
Danny Huston
Carly Nahon
Claire Pakis
Nick Nichols
John Rubinstein
Eddie Marsan
Loyd Keith Salter
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $39.95 Music Dave Matthews
Gustavo Santaolalla


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Dutch Titling Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "They say we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death...everyone. The weight of a stack of five nickels. The weight of a chocolate bar. The weight of a hummingbird..."

    How much does love weigh?

    How much does guilt weigh?

    How much does revenge weigh?

    These arresting sentiments are at the core of 21 Grams, a new film from the director of Amores Perros, who, by his own confession, is obsessed with death and its repercussions.

    21 Grams is a confronting, maddening, often gut wrenching film that is courageous in its tackling of some of humanity's darkest moral questions. It was directed by Mexican Alejandro González Iñárritu and bears some resemblance to Steven Soderbergh's extraordinarily ambitious Traffic, with its interweaving story lines and Christopher Nolan's Memento, which baffled most of us with its unchronological editing of events, throwing us back and forth between past, future and present, daring us to make sense of anything until (and sometimes even long after) the closing credits. I will apologise now to all those cineastes who find such comparisons tedious and uneducated in the world of modern film but at least I didn't liken 21 Grams to Traffic because of the presence of a certain Oscar winning Mexican actor. I must confess that I thought both Soderbergh's and Nolan's films were deliberately designed to seem clever but Iñárritu's film is a different beast all together. Such is the unremitting bleakness of the story that I saw the structural and temporal intricacies as a means of tempering the onslaught of despair. Without the constant need to engage our minds to unravel the puzzle the director and writer have laid before us I do not think the film would have been bearable to watch emotionally. This is not so much a criticism as a testament to the power of the acting and unflinching bravery of the creative team.

    Do I even attempt the requisite plot summary? If there ever was a film where I could get away with not doing one, I think this is it, but I will try. We are introduced to three characters: Jack, Paul and Cristina. Jack (Benicio del Toro in an Oscar nominated performance) is a reformed criminal, who has found God, a loving wife and family and is trying desperately to keep his life on track. Cristina (Naomi Watts, also nominated for an Oscar for her role) is a young, happily married, suburban mother with two beautiful daughters. Paul (Sean Penn) is a long suffering patient waiting for a donor heart so he can rebuild his life, and possibly his relationship with his partner. I will not say any more as some of the information almost gives away too much because of the fragmented storytelling of the film. 21 Grams  is brimming with risky, edgy and unflinching performances from some of the most talented actors going around, who plunge headlong in their search for redemption. It is heavy going, but do see it.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    As when I reviewed Rebecca Miller's fascinating Personal Velocity, assessing the video quality proves somewhat difficult because of the deliberate stylistic choices of the director and his talented director of photography. It is presented at its original, intended aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1, with 16x9 enhancement.

    The pictures is relatively sharp with good levels of detail. Shadow detail is as good as I believe the filmmakers intended.

    The colour palette is, expectedly, drained of brightness, and the washed out look very effectively captures the mood of the film. There are some fascinating uses of colour depending on the locations - pallid blues and greys at the swimming pool for example, whilst the desert scenes are coolly earthy and sometimes almost grimy. Skin tones vary throughout, with both Naomi Watts and Sean Penn in particular looking almost translucent on occasions - this is not a criticism, merely an observation of the distinctive look of the film.

    Film artefacts? I didn't see any.

    The film looks deliberately grainy and as such it is difficult to assess compression artefacts. I don't think their existence is a blight on the transfer at all.

    There is some very mild aliasing but this is not a distraction.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two choices of soundtrack - English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. I sampled the 2.0 track but listened to the 5.1 track in its entirety and found it to be a definite improvement over its two channel counterpart, but certainly not a demonstration track. It is subtle and only occasionally does one make out definite sounds from the rear speakers. The subwoofer doesn't get much to do, but adds some weight to the intermittent musical soundtrack, which is used sparingly and to excellent effect throughout.

    The sound design of the film is outstanding and is well presented. Audio sync is terrific and there were no detectable dropouts or distortions, apart from those that were intentionally created.

    Dialogue is at all times easily understood.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Documentary - 21 Grams: In Fragments

    The extra of major interest is a relatively brief eighteen minute documentary entitled 21 Grams: In Fragments, which features interviews with the director and three main cast members, along with some interesting behind the scenes footage. There is a lot of the expected congratulatory speak but this doesn't offend me as much as a lot of people, so be warned. This is a better than average effort, presented in a letterboxed format, but nonetheless 16x9 enhanced.

Trailer

    A single trailer, not presented with 16x9 enhancement, which includes the words that began my review. It is brief but packs quite a punch.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as I can tell the Region 1 release misses out on the documentary and trailer, but does have DTS sound. It is true that the documentary and trailer don't amount to much, but I really don't think the film needs DTS sound. Your call.

Summary

    It was only last week that I was singing the praises of Bright Young Things, adding it to my Top 10 list for 2003. Yet again I have to add another film (at the expense of what I don't know yet). This is a heart wrenching, fascinatingly crafted piece of cinema from an undeniable talent.

    The video is not your standard 'perfect' transfer, but is perfect for the film.

    The audio is subtle but effective.

    The extras are somewhat disappointing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Scott Murray (Dont read my bio - it's terrible.)
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDYamaha DVR-S100, using Component output
DisplaySony 76cm Widescreen Trinitron TV. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha DVR-S100 (built in)
SpeakersYamaha NX-S100S 5 speakers, Yamaha SW-S100 160W subwoofer

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