Benicio Del Toro may have won an Oscar for his rich, affable work in Traffic, but in 21 Grams, he performs something of a small miracle, and that is single-handedly raise a film from utter and total negation despite having all the odds stacked against him (a director focusing on all the wrong elements, gimmicky editing that enhances nothing, a morose self-important screenplay, and so much more). In fact, Del Toro is the sole reason I return to this film at all, and each time I walk away from it with a new appreciation for his portrayal of Jack Johnson, a man holding on to life only through his unbreakable faith. Del Toro plays him as a man who is elated at having discovered the true purpose of his life (that is, to serve and perpetuate the message of Christ, his savior). He is so confident in his belief that he places his family, his work and everything else behind this commitment to worship. He passionately preaches (intimidatingly so) to anyone he can find, even if they want to hear him out or not. The errors and contradictions of his behaviour are obvious to everyone else but him (consider the mixed message he sends to his children, asking his daughter to "turn the other cheek", and then in turn lashing out against his son). But when he is forsaken by this benevolent God, Johnson finally snaps under the pressure of encountering one tragedy after the other. Del Toro is searing as this broken man, resembling a member of the undead - he walks among the living, but his humanity is robbed, his spirit extinguished. When confronted by his priest for having lost his faith, Del Toro is astounding in how he replies. "This is hell" he rasps softly, tapping his head before exploding "I did everything He asked me to do!". When I think of 21 Grams, that scene immediately registers, and I marvel at Del Toro's intensity, frustration and sadness. Jack is desperately confused at his place in the world now; having rejected spiritual guidance, he is nothing. Although the film is about loss, Del Toro is the only person who really seems to understand what he is exploring.
P.S. - This has nothing to do with Del Toro, but I am horrified - horrified - and appalled that Six Feet Under was snubbed for an Emmy nomination for Best Drama Series (in place of what? I'm a fan of Grey's Anatomy, but even I admit it's feel-good trash). At least they had the good sense of recognizing Peter Krause, Frannie Conroy, Patricia Clarkson and Joanna Cassidy, along with Alan Ball for writing/directing. I will end with my regular FYC push for Conroy - if she loses for Best Actress, I will crawl into bed and never emerge from it, lamenting how stupid and lame the world is. That is all.