- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who delivered the critically acclaimed
But when you take this chronologically scrambled narrative and think it through, what you find is a preposterous plot in which damaged, anxiety-driven characters give each other far more reason for the furrows in their brows. It's a circus of dispiriting behavior that has no sentiment more profound than this: "Be kind to each other, because everything else, especially religion, will fail you in the end." While it is not the focus of the film, Christianity is portrayed as a productive crutch for people with bad habits, a faith that ultimately collapses when a believer is tested by trials.
Just as he did in Iñárritu's earlier film, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga delivers a trio of crisscrossing narratives that overlap due to a traumatizing event. It all feels calculated, like the storyteller is not really interested in exploring issues so much as he is preoccupied with skewering his characters and making them writhe and squirm. These heavily-hyped 125 minutes feel more like 240 minutes of headache.
So, of course, there is heavy Oscar buzz accompanying the film's release.
Sean Penn, more morose and reckless than he was in the similarly bleak
The widow, Christina Peck, is played with passion and anger by Naomi Watts. Peck was once a woman who wasted her life on drugs and parties, but she pulled things together in the context of a loving marriage. Robbed of her family and stalked by Rivers, she spirals downward into self-destruction. Before long, she's indulging in an affair that qualifies the film as temporarily pornographic—the centerpiece sex scene is gratuitous, exploitative, and misleading in its glorification of misbehavior.
Adding insult to injury, we also have Jack Jordan (Benicio Del Toro), a recovered alcoholic who has found Jesus and redemption but still slaps his children around and rules his family like a tyrant. When tough times get tougher, Jordan has a crisis of faith. Apparently his church failed to teach him that Jesus doesn't make your problems go away. Jordan doesn't find hope or consolation through Jesus' presence in his life. The film postures as if it is taking on tough questions of faith, but instead it exhibits ignorance about basic Christian truths.
My full review is at Looking Closer.
Several mainstream critics are offering similar complaints. David Denby (
"I wanted to like