Will Smith has managed to become someone completely other than he has ever been on film. Except that he is still a superman and thusly asking us to suspend disbelief once again. Seven Pounds is a tale of awkward dimensions that is poignant, poignant, poignant. It's the next morning and I'm still all worn out from seeing it.
It is the tale of no exit. Of a man determined to sacrifice himself in the wake of a tragedy that destroys his will to live except to pay a blood debt. It is a supremely arrogant presumption of a world in which no faith brings succor, where only acts of human charity are the acceptable currency, a world devoid of the grace of God. It makes it compelling as hell, and it makes Will Smith christlike. It works in astonishing ways but here I sit the day after unable to comprehend whether I love that or hate it.
I have no use for tearjerker films although I have no problem crying at films. I do so more than ever in my life at this stage. And the pace of this movie is so unpredictably delicious that I could not outthink the manipulations and second-guess the mood swings of the audio cues. The solo piano never stood for tragedy, the canny lyric never lingered in the mind too long. Seven Pounds is extraordinary drama delivered expressly for film with expert screenwriting and direction. This takes a powerful and simple story through interwoven and cascading vignettes and brings it into narrative focus through a love affair. And it isn't until the final minutes of the film that you realize that the love was entirely accidental tangential to the intent of the protagonist. The acting is very good, superb even, given the necessity of slow revelation. Nobody is allowed much room to be at cross-purposes or have their own dissonance interfere with the focus on Smith, but he delivers in a hugely successful understated manner. This is a film about a man with an all-consuming purpose, it just happens to be one that smashes us to bits as we realize the personal dimensions of it and the reason for it.
What makes it work so devastatingly well, is that Smith finally finds hope, and a possible escape from his fate. That escape is the love affair that becomes the center of the film's gravity. It is the most heartbreaking feint I have ever seen in any movie.
The dimension of human tragedy is always a compelling subject. As Will Smith's career matures it is becoming ever more clear that he is drawn to play uniquely heroic characters. He continually faces tragedy in a way that is transcendent. I compare him to three other actors who play heroic roles and he stands out among them for the quality of his choice. Bruce Willis exemplifies a hang-dog determination, an unstoppable ability to go the extra, if obvious, mile. Denzel Washington stands up to face evil head on with the moral resolve and discipline that is unwavering. Tom Hanks, when he plays a hero, employs an emotional intelligence that makes his path clear, zenlike. Smith now through Seven Pounds after Hancock and I Am Legend and harkening back to I Robot is the purpose-driven hero. A man with a hidden yet undefeatable capacity who must wrestle with the fact that he must walk in human shoes. It is a tangent that his film career could make extraordinary use of, because it is a new kind of hero amidst a sort we may have become immune to.
Will Smith doesn't bother to get the girl. Instead he goes for the gut. He is an actor who has had quite enough fun as a person, and I get the feeling that he's living right offstage and that directs his willingness to be the beginning character in Seven Pounds. When we meet Ben Thomas, there are several flashes where I can't help but be reminded that Smith's own humble origins would bring him to deal with charitable excess. I easily imagine him to be the Kung Fu Santa Claus of my own personal dreams - a successful figure who can afford to spend his life tracking down people and delivering personal philanthropy, or an ass-kicking, one. Imposing justice man to man - that's the business of a hero. Smith never plays a little man, he plays a big man in little shoes who knows that eventually he's going to have to stop tiptoeing and throw down. The difference between him now and in the Independence Day and Men in Black days, was that he was being outwardly brash. Now he is inwardly brash, but the heroic ends are just as large.
How many times can it be done? That's hard to say, and it depends on Smith's willingness to tackle some contemporary madness American audiences are hyped about. He has been a cop, how about a small town mayor? How about a bishop? Why not an aid worker?
I keep thinking of M. Night Shyamalan's style of film when I think of Smith. The mix of natural and supernatural are unsettled in his his world. The ability to surprise is there, but MNS stays in the realm of storytelling for its own sake. Smith is not satisfied with that. That is why he is just a couple roles from being a great American actor.