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Film Review Archive


Two films:
21 Grams & The Return of the King

Reviewed by Helen Meservey

Everyone seems to be talking about Sean Penn these days. Seems he’s broken stride as a great actor all of a sudden, all over again.

He has always been an actor of note, hearkening back to 1982 with his breakout performance as a high-school stoner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Maybe he’s turning heads again because he doesn’t make too many films. Or maybe it’s because the actor, at 43, with exquisite crow’s feet framing his mysterious blue eyes, has become a master at his craft, and it’s a great pleasure to see him at work.

With his latest starring turn in 21 Grams, Penn plays a man at both sides of a distinct crossroads. On one side, he is a man wearily awaiting a heart transplant; on the other, he is that man with a new heart.

An intensely serious and dramatic film, 21 Grams and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu give Penn a fine vehicle for his mature talents. Together, along with Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts, they deliver a sad story that nonetheless makes a hopeful statement about the insistence of life to simply keep going on. On a similar theme but in a radically different vehicle, Director Peter Jackson delivers a superb interpretation of how life should best go on in the fine, fine finale of his epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy, The Return of the King.

No less than the great showdown between good and evil and finding the capacity for both inside yourself, The Return of the King grandly bestows the bounty so boldly promised by the first two films in the sequence.

Two years ago, Jackson unleashed a fury of anticipation and excitement with the release of The Fellowship of the Rings, the first in the trilogy based on the scrupulously detailed and fantastical novels of J.R.R. Tolkien. Fans were not disappointed last year, when The Two Towers proved to be as magnificent as the first. To say The Return of the King, which opened nationwide December 17, does not disappoint is like saying Santa Cruz tends toward the progressive.

True fans of Tolkien are purists. They would not take kindly—or hand over the hundreds of millions in ticket sales and merchandise—to a convenient or shoddy corner-cut version of their storyteller’s masterpiece. Part of the great appeal and charm, both artistic and commercial, of Jackson’s projects is that the Australian director is himself an avid fan of Tolkien. All in all, it was a recipe for success.

Much has been written about the great gamble New Line Cinemas took in agreeing to Jackson’s unorthodox proposal to shoot all three movies during a single 15-month period; the rewards of this approach are evident in many ways. To die-hard fans from the 1954, when the first novel was released, to the many thousands of grateful new ones, the most important of these rewards is faith that the big screen still can deliver big magic.

For KUSP, this is Helen Meservey.