21 Grams & The Return of the King
seems to be talking about Sean Penn these days. Seems hes
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 hes turning heads again
because he doesnt make too many films. Or maybe its
because the actor, at 43, with exquisite crows feet framing
his mysterious blue eyes, has become a master at his craft,
and its 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 kindlyor
hand over the hundreds of millions in ticket sales and merchandiseto
a convenient or shoddy corner-cut version of their storytellers
masterpiece. Part of the great appeal and charm, both artistic
and commercial, of Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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.