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Careers for Good Samaritans and Other Humanitarian Types
3rd Edition
by Marjorie Eberts, Margaret Gisler
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Seven Pounds"

As though chasing away his sci-fi superhero demons ("I Am Legend," "Hancock"), Will Smith puts on a business suit again and returns to his family drama channel in a character piece under the directorial hand of Gabriele Muccino with whom he did "The Pursuit of Happyness".

As IRS auditor Ben Thomas, he commands instant reactions from a series of "clients" whom he visits for personal audits. His approach is, to say the least, unusual. It will eventually become clear that Ben isn't your ordinary agent. He's more about saving lives than squeezing anyone for back taxes.

This guy is so good, immaculately-dressed and squeeky clean morally (if you don't dig too deep) you could think the film is a tract sponsored by the church. As he goes about testing people on his list, and beefing up his Santa creds with non-IRS-like decisions, the suspicion grows that all is not entirely per the protocols of the job. It's in how he confronts people with their tax dossier (each weighing a pound) and how obsessed he is about doing it that we come to realize this guy is on a mission of personal redemption and sacrifice. From what, and how far he's prepared to go, we will learn later on.

It starts with his call to a blind telemarketer named Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson), whom he demeans mercilessly as a character-testing device. Next, he visits a doctor who owes a five figure amount to Uncle Sam and hasn't been living up to his promises. There's a battered woman with two children whom he rescues from her life of pain in a very extraordinary way. And, others. Seven of them, each with a need for a transplant of seven different body parts. And, seven pounds of righting wrongs and relief from debts.

(For what the title refers to and what the facts are, see SPOILER button below.)

Among them, Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson, "Alexander," "Rent"). And this is where the weird government employee, who lives in a hotel that rents by the hour and who buys sting rays for his aquarium, gets his redemptive mission tested.

Emily is a beautiful greeting card designer who was printing her original work in the garage workshop of her modest bungalow before her congenitally weak heart started breaking down and making her sick and behind on her financial obligations. She doesn't need an IRS auditor breathing down her neck, but this one, she realizes, isn't exactly threatening. In fact, he's so apparently kind and helpful, he gets under her protective shell.

Her rare blood type makes a heart transplant very difficult and she could go at any time. The IRS guy has finally met a problem he can't fix. But, after showing him her vintage printing press that doesn't work--defying repair by any expert--he sneaks in late at night with his tools and proceeds to reanimate the unfixable machine. At least he can do that much. But, when Emily asks a few personal questions about him, he clams up like a Fort Knox vault, to her consternation.

At this point in the drama, you want to say, "welcome to the club, lady. We're in the same boat" because the audience has been left to guess about what's been driving this guy for two acts, now. Little about Ben Thomas is explained. He's unfathomable as this perfectly composed individual who is on a fanatical crusade. It takes an emotional attachment to throw him off balance and, though he responds to it when it happens, which at last gives the film some lighthearted, hopeful moments, it isn't going to be dealt with in any predictable or transcendent way.

Sorry to say, (and this is where I'm sure there'll be much disagreement) the withholding of so much information about the central character comes off as a dramatic device which, for all the positive elements of the story and the two leads' magnetism, tend toward dramatic manipulation in order to, I suspect, take the edge off the unrelieved goodness and the nauseating factor. Puzzle pieces fall into place in a last act rush as if a switch were thrown, suggesting a personal and, even, selfish component to the motivations of a do-gooder--at least in the dramatically heightened world of a Will Smith vehicle.

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The Soundtrack

Acting and production are at a high pro level, with Harrelson evoking studied sympathy under a scathingly brutal verbal attack on an innocent--a setup contrived to get the emotional pump boiling. It would arouse condemnation upon Ben if it were credible. Dawson can deliver both feisty assertiveness and deep sympathy with the best (and hottest) of them. A nice turn for a gifted actress who looks so fine and so well matched to the hunkiest male star of current cinema. The film's major appeal is the romantic chemistry this pair brings to it.

Smith gives this plot as much humanity with dark shadings as anyone could, despite the underlying pretentiousness of the character premise. I admire him too much to hold that against him, but I'm ready for the further adventures of Hancock. Undoubtedly this channel of his opus will appeal to legions of fans who care less about stylistic fine points and will be affected in their hearts by the troubled good samaritan and his outsize effect on the chosen Seven.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I've seen the movie and agree with the review

the film ignores the effects of Tim's suicide upon Emily and Ben, both of whom would have been guilt-ridden

                                                           ~~ Jim S. 
Very well written
Site rating: 5
                                                           ~~ kimica w. 

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