21 Grams Movie Review: A Clunky Investigative Thriller Redeemed Partly By A Killer Climax

With first-draft like scenes and lines, 21 Grams needed to protect its twist with much better writing and performances


Cast: Anoop Menon, Renji Panicker, Leona Lishoy, Anu Mohan

Director: Bibin Krishna

Director Bibin Krishna’s 21 Grams is madly in love with co-incidences. Written around the murder of two siblings, the film finds one too many ways to connect these deaths to the film’s protagonist and main investigating officer Nandakishore (Anoop Menon). For one, a close journalist friend of his was already investigating a crime linked closely to one of the siblings. Few scenes later, we realise that this crime is one that’s anyway close to Nandakishore’s personal life and fate. Then we learn that one of the victims had a direct relationship with Nandakishore’s own brother in law. Finally, despite all of these connections, Nandakishore’s direct involvement does not really help the case all that much except for the viewers to find out who the killer was finally.

It also doesn’t help that Nandakishore is simply fed with fresh information whenever he gets stuck. For instance, a vital clue emerges when one of the victim’s video notes gets recovered from a mobile phone. At this point, we are unaware of any such clip being traced so it simply feels convenient for such an important detail to be presented as though it was required for the film to move forward. One finds many such inserts equally convenient including a lazy narrative tool that combines Nandakishore’s personal life and the case. The tool in question is both a literal and a figurative puzzle that peeps in and out of the screenplay whenever the protagonist needs to introspect. So when he gets stuck, it’s this jigsaw puzzle of a family photograph that comes to his rescue, even if the puzzle itself and the resolution appears to be silly.

And then we have to listen to the dozens of cliches Nandakishore and clan speak in, especially when they switch to English from Malayalam. So we get lines as basic as “Karma is a bitch” and “We need to look for the missing piece” which do not let you take the case seriously, just like how we get far too many shots of Nandakishore massaging his forehead, likes he’s activating his “Raghavan Instinct”. What makes it even harder to hold on to the film’s central conceit is how even big reveals remind you of older films, like how the news of a medical scam is presented to us. All of this works against the film because it gives you the feeling that the screenplay itself was reverse-engineered for a shocking ending.

This ending is shocking and it’s impossible to arrive at this conclusion independently. Yet with several characters that appear too rudimentary to be important, it becomes evident that they are all red herrings that are meant to deceive and distract. In other words, the guessing game such scripts rely on isn’t particularly fun when most suspects appear too cardboard-like to be a real culprit. If the surprise at the end is the only thing that matters for a film to be engaging, then 21 Grams is surely worth watching. But with its first-draft like scenes and lines, 21 Grams needed to protect its twist with much better writing and performances.

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"Vishal Menon: Vishal dropped out of law school to focus on his fondness for film, particularly mainstream Indian cinema. He is a film critic, previously with The Hindu after a stint at Deccan Chronicle and Reuters News. If you thought the book was better than the movie, don’t tell Vishal.."
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