Relentlessly tugging on your heartstrings like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, Seven Pounds is manipulative treacle of the worst kind. Director Gabriele Muccino and screenwriter Grant Nieporte build up a wellspring of false sympathy and then exploit it with a horribly cheap twist ending that uses the same plot device as the schlocky horror movie Awake. The film’s arty, out-of-sequence storytelling serves only to obscure the clichéd, Oprah-style sentiment at its core. The more that gets revealed, the more phony the movie seems, until the overwrought finale produces far more groans than tears.
Even before that, Muccino envelops every moment in a constant hushed score that projects a vaguely ominous, somber tone, and Smith gives a very heavy performance as IRS agent Ben Thomas, introduced calling 911 to report his own imminent suicide. Just why Ben is committing suicide doesn’t become entirely clear until the end of the movie, but you can probably put the pieces together as you watch him travel around LA talking to various down-on-their luck folks and deciding whether or not they are worthy of his help.
Primary among those is Emily Posa (Dawson), a calligrapher with a failing heart who also happens to owe tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, and with whom Ben gradually falls in love. When it’s finally revealed why Ben sought Emily out in the first place, the combined strain of all the contrivances is more than the movie can bear.
In the meantime, Ben goes around stalking his subjects, intruding into their lives and then asking invasive, highly personal questions. He’s like some sort of roving, belligerent self-help guru. As he gives generously of himself, we come to learn that although he’s helping people, he’s really the one in need of help. Shocking, isn’t it? Ben’s brother pops up every now and then to remind us that Something Is Not Right, but Smith’s leaden, charisma-dampening performance sadly says it all. Even the incandescent Dawson can’t make noble-sufferer Emily into anything more than a tearjerking automaton. By the time the movie ends with (spoiler alert!) what is most likely cinema’s only instance of suicide by jellyfish, the only person you’ll want to cry for is yourself, for having been fooled into sitting through the whole thing. –Josh Bell