Generally favorable reviews - based on 41 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 31 out of 41
  2. Negative: 5 out of 41
  1. At the very least, look for it on 10-best lists next month, and there's every chance it will be a strong contender at the Oscars. Filmmaking so sensitive and intelligent deserves its weight in honors.
  2. This sad, staggering drama should be seen: out of the grimness, and the profound calamity, you can almost taste life in your mouth.
  3. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Unstintingly explores and exposes excruciating pain, raw grief, ruinous vengeance and life-affirming resilience, creating human portraits that are uncommonly exhilarating in their honesty. This is cinematic art in its highest form.
  4. 100
    A stunning kaleidoscope of a motion picture - a mosaic of images that gradually resolves itself into a powerful tale of tragedy and redemption.
  5. As darkness falls over the movie landscape comes the year's darkest and best movie of them all - Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams.
  6. Reviewed by: Rob Fraser
    21 Grams strives for greatness, and that's precisely what it achieves.
  7. 100
    You won't come out unaffected, because the depths of intimacy that the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu plumbs here are so rarely touched by filmmakers that 21 Grams is tantamount to the discovery of a new country.
  8. A stunning virtuoso performance by director, cast and crew. This movie knocks you out with an astonishing blend of hyper-realism, visual complexity and powerful themes.
  9. Reviewed by: D.W. Smith
    Trust me, if you have a thirst for a good, dark drama, this one is a big gulp.
  10. What gives the film a formalist kick is that the story unfolds piecemeal as a series of nonlinear moments. What gives it soul are the three lead actors who pull the pieces together with devastating power.
  11. Mr. Penn has been praised lavishly for his work in "Mystic River," in a role that was no reach for him at all, but this is one of the stand-out performances of his career, layered and exquisitely nuanced. And, remarkably, he's only one-third of a stellar ensemble.
  12. The movie itself is a miracle: tough, smart, relentless, provocative and, above all, serious.
  13. 88
    You won't see more explosive acting this year.
  14. Blessed with one of the strongest casts of any American movie this year, this bravura film, with its radical structure, is full of risk and reward.
  15. 88
    Stunningly photographed, largely with a hand-held camera, by Rodrigo Prieto (another member of the "Amores Perros" team) on gritty locations in Memphis and Albuquerque, 21 Grams is also a visual tour de force - and a rare Hollywood product depicting class differences with any kind of honesty.
  16. One of the most original, and certainly among the best-acted films this year, 21 Grams focuses on people on the verge of dying, having survived death or grasping at the slender threads of new lives.
  17. Paradoxically, a movie that loses power the more you perceive what's actually going on in it. Laid end to end, the story is, to put it mildly, overwrought, fusing several cataclysms too many.
  18. A punch in the stomach of a movie. It is as ugly as it is beautiful, as full of peaks as of lows. It's a character-driven movie about people on an emotional edge who are ridding themselves of the things that can no longer work without inflicting damage.
  19. 80
    Each and every one of the movie's 125 minutes is a moment of searing truth.
  20. 80
    A nearly unparalleled actor's showcase, the film boasts performances of impressive quality and quantity...Their complexity matches the film's.
  21. A devastating and weighty picture.
  22. 75
    21 Grams tells such a tormenting story that it just about survives its style. It would have been more powerful in chronological order, and even as a puzzle, it has a deep effect.
  23. Reviewed by: Carla Meyer
    The payoff in 21 Grams comes not from watching characters achieve or overcome but from the recognition of their struggle not to give up the fight.
  24. Despite juggled storytelling, the movie's compelling.
  25. Reviewed by: Ken Fox
    Aside from a little eleventh-hour pseudo-mysticism about death and the weight of the soul, the story is really little more than a unusually gripping thriller.
  26. 70
    Uprooted from their home soil, González Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga can't quite manage to make this gloomy, improbable stew of romance, film noir and pseudo-metaphysical speculation hang together.
  27. 70
    Watts, who has the most difficult scenes, is splendidly mercurial; what's surprising is that those professional storm clouds Penn and Del Toro are here as powerfully restrained as she is electrifying.
  28. Aimed at the brain, when it should have been one for the heart.
  29. 70
    As in "Amores perros," Iñarritu and Arriaga slice and dice the chronology, which helps distract from the warmed-over story elements and focus attention on the superior performances.
  30. 67
    While a splendidly acted and worthily grown-up movie, too often has the feel of a potboiling soap opera, with twists and turns that range from the grimly ironic to the absurdly sensational.
  31. 63
    The fragmented style is distracting and ultimately annoying, robbing the story of its suspense and drive while contributing nothing except self-conscious style.
  32. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    What keeps this movie honest is the characters, each of them a mass of conflicting instincts, virtues and vices. You know Gonzalez Inarritu comes from outside Hollywood because he doesn't divide the world into heroes and villains.
  33. Reviewed by: David Rooney
    Ambitiously structured in non-chronological fragments that form a fascinating puzzle, this raw drama about grief, guilt and redemption becomes ultimately overextended and overwrought in its final stretch.
  34. 50
    Long on mood and moodiness, but at a loss as how to break any interesting human ground.
  35. Reviewed by: Glenn Kenny
    Too-laborious meditation on life and death.
  36. 50
    Luckily, Penn, Watts and Leo carry more weight than that; they keep this movie's two hours and five minutes from seeming like lost time.
  37. It’s forceful, to be sure, but in a lurid way that suggests a telenovela that’s been baking in the sun too long.
  38. 30
    Where "Amores Perros" was a feast of energy, wit and imagination, 21 Grams is like a starvation diet -- a movie that wallows so profoundly in its own misery that watching it is like atoning for some sin you didn't commit.
  39. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    As usual with Penn, I don't completely buy the character, but I completely buy that he has brilliantly internalized SOMETHING. He goes to some weird psychological places, our Sean.
  40. It's so laden with foreboding, you want to get out from under it and gasp for air.
  41. 30
    The kind of bad movie that makes a reviewer feel terrible. It has been put together with great sincerity, and yet, impassioned and affecting as some of it is, 21 Grams is also an arrogant failure. [24 November 2003, p. 113]
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 162 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 48 out of 59
  2. Negative: 9 out of 59
  1. Aug 29, 2010
    Between "Amores Perros," "Babel" and this movie, Gonzalez Inarritu has produced some of the heaviest dramas of the past 10 years. Perhaps it is because they all deal with such shattered characters - in this case we are given a man who has just undergone heart replacement surgery which temporarily alleviates the strain ...between him and his separated wife, a born-again man who suddenly finds himself responsible for running over and killing a husband and two girls and the woman who has lost her whole family in that car accident. Each of these characters are faced with the idea of moving on with their lives; as we watch them adjust, we see that the difficulty isn't overcoming the past - it's the realization that they don't even understand what their lives are anymore. The serious performances from the three leads (Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Naomi Watts) are really what give the film its depth, and even make up for Inarritu's completely unnecessary nonlinear style, which seems to serve no purpose other than to make the viewer pay more attention. Full Review »
  2. Jan 27, 2013
    21 Grams could have been an excellent movie. Every character did their part. The problem is the director didn't put the scenes in order, making it hard to be fully engaged in the story. Full Review »
  3. Feb 7, 2013
    -fractured, intense, painful structure and stories reflect the presence of death -colorful characters with complex backgrounds and strong acting combine with the intensity of the structure -audience left with same discomfort and need for rest as characters Full Review »