The title of Alejandro González Iñárritu's last movie, Mexican street flick Amores Perros, translated as Love's A Bitch. Safe to say he's shifted on to weightier themes for his American debut. In the pensive, soulful thriller 21 Grams, it ain't love that's a bitch, but life itself.
In a bracing reversal of that cinematic staple, the ménage à trois, Iñárritu draws a death triangle formed and angled by the contrasting destinies of Naomi Watts, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro. Watts is the housewife whose family is wiped out in a reckless car accident; Del Toro is the career criminal left shuddering behind the offending steering wheel; and Penn is the transplantee sewn up with the heart of Watts' deceased husband. Gripped in the loop of their own self-serving obsessions, yet all rattling the bars of their respective soul-cages, these three separate lives tangle and collide towards The Great Inevitable.
Life is complicated and unpredictable; so too is Iñárritu's movie. His characters' doomed paths may seem as predestined as the bouldering swing of a wrecking ball, but it's the jigsawed time structure (and its multiple random impact points) that make it such compelling cinema. Handheld camerawork charges the voyeuristic mule-kick; raw performances from three exceptional leads land the punch.
The film doesn't offer any easy answers and chances are that knuckles will be circling under the eyes come the credits. But its ambiguity both rouses and rewards.
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