Rating: Rated M (mature themes)
The film begins with a phone call to the emergency number. A man, played by Will Smith, is reporting a suicide. Asked who is the victim, he replies: “I am.”
Immediately the audience’s attention is engaged. Why is this man suiciding? Who is he? What has he done? Then the man’s story unfolds in the inevitable flashback — but in a way designed to keep the viewer guessing and making it almost impossible for the reviewer.
The whole point of the film, from the director responsible for 2006’s The Pursuit of Happiness, which also starred Will Smith, is that the audience is not supposed to know what is going on until the film-maker chooses to reveal it, which occurs at about the 115-minute mark. So unless the reviewer does the unthinkable and discloses the key secret storyline element, it is impossible to fully discuss the film, particularly a profound moral question vital to the plot. Why, we can’t even explain the meaning of the film’s title without giving too much of a clue.
So what can we tell? First of all, Smith’s character is introduced as Ben Thomas, a tax investigator whose job is to check up on citizens who are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. There is probably no more likeable screen actor than Will Smith, and his charm is a key factor in the appeal of the movie, though in early scenes Ben is called upon to uncharacteristically berate and bully a blind call-centre operator, Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson). Turner’s name is on a list that Ben is consulting. Another on that list is Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a young woman who is in and out of hospital as she awaits a donor for the heart transplant that she needs to survive.
It soon becomes clear that Ben is not your usual tax collector. He has a habit of turning up in clients’ lives at the most unexpected times, when he is likely to be greeted with “What are you doing here?” And he is concerned with what sort of people they are. If he feels they are worthy folk he will grant an extension on their time to pay. But woe betide if he detects cheating or untruthfulness or hypocrisy.
He questions the value of a person’s life. Can a life be worthless? If people are in difficulties, he wants to help — and he does so without asking, whether it is weeding the garden or fixing up an antique printing press. He gets involved in the lives of seven people, particularly in that of Emily, with whom he falls in love.
Ben seems an exceptionally virtuous, generous and loving person. But all the while there is the lingering thought of his suicide. And what is the significance of the fatal car crash that is shown in brief flashbacks but not explained? Not to mention the box jellyfish that Ben keeps in a tank.
The script by Grant Nieporte teases and tantalises and does it very well, although some passages, particularly the scenes in which Ben’s and Emily’s growing attraction for each other is explored, are a bit on the slow side. Then again, Smith and Dawson make a very attractive couple with whom it is pleasant to linger.
Like The Pursuit of Happiness (in which Smith played a father heroically raising his young son in tough circumstances), Seven Pounds is a feelgood, unashamedly sentimental movie about decency and warm humanity. If you are allergic to those things, you may want to give it a wide berth. But many will find it an enjoyable, lump-in-the-throat, uplifting entertainment.
Sony Pictures Out January 8
Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.