Though he did not write or direct it, the directorial fingerprints of lead actor Sean Penn can be seen all over the psychological thriller 21 Grams. The films he writes and directs are melancholy and highly stylized--and while it's obvious that someone with a lot more cinematic skill than Penn has supervised the editing process, his choice of this script over the dozens of others he was undoubtedly offered last year can likely be attributed to the similarities in both tone and content that 21 Grams has to Penn's own work as a filmmaker.
It's a wonder that no critic ever made the connection between this film and The Crossing Guard, which Penn wrote and directed. In 21 Grams, Penn plays the main character (if one had to be so designated), Paul Rivers, whose life is changed when a driver mows down a man and his two children.
The story bounces around in time, giving attention to the wife/mother of those slain, the driver/killer himself and Penn, who is the eventual recipient of the man's heart when he dies and his wife donates the organs.
Reminiscent of Return to Me, except good, 21 Grams is at its center the story of a relationship that develops between Rivers and Christina Peck (the character portrayed by Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts), the wife of the man whose heart Penn has. Other than the one bad pun--"You can trust me, I have a good heart."--the relationship is actually reasonably believable (taking for granted that her psyche is destroyed by grief and shock). She kisses him, kicks him out, invites him back, sleeps with him, hates herself, blames him, asks for his help in killing the man who killed her family. She's passionate and volatile and that's why she got the...