Seven Pounds

Starring Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, and Woody Harrelson. Rated PG. Opens Friday, December 19, at the Cinemark Tinseltown

They don't really make movies like Seven Pounds any more. Although Grant Nieporte's bittersweet screenplay is laced with contemporary angst, the story has one foot firmly planted in the kind of 1940s tearjerker that typically featured a gravely ill Bette Davis grappling for the meaning of life. Just about everybody here suffers with a kind of old-school nobility that's rare these days, including Will Smith as the deeply troubled Ben Thomas, an IRS agent who takes a special interest in the soulful Emily (Rosario Dawson), a lonely tax evader who's in desperate need of both a friend and a heart transplant.

Emily is baffled when a kindly Ben arranges to freeze her assets so that the government will stop harassing her for payment. Ben's desire to play with people's destinies doesn't stop with Emily. He also reaches into the lives of a blind musician (Woody Harrelson) and a distraught Latino family too proud to ask for help. Driven by a strange need to punish himself while doing good, he insists on the intense pain that accompanies donating bone marrow without anesthetic. But Ben isn't just a determined martyr with a masochistic streak. When he discovers that a hospital administrator is depriving an elderly patient of basic care, we get a disturbing glimpse of the rage that festers just below his mild-mannered surface.

In a less ambitious film, Ben would probably turn out to be a serial killer. But director Gabriele Muccino—who collaborated with Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness—has his sights set on a high-end date movie. As for the far-fetched premise that keeps threatening to sink Smith's entirely convincing performance, let's just say that although the story takes some shameless liberties with logic, the committed cast has a way of keeping things real against all odds.