by Rick Grant
Grade: B / Rated PG-13
Although director Gabriel Muccino’s gives away subtle tells throughout the story, the scenario is more than the narrative of an IRS agent who seeks redemption. This leads to a certain amount of viewer confusion as to what motivates IRS Agent Ben Thomas (Will Smith). As the scenario unfolds, viewers begin to put the bits and pieces together.
From a screenplay written by Grant Nieporte, Thomas is investigating IRS cases in which the tax payer owes considerable sums of money. He politely meets with the tax dodgers and tries to work out payments on their debt. In a couple of cases, he puts a freeze on their accounts so they can have some breathing room.
One such case is Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) who is suffering from heart disease. Thomas seems smitten by Emily and helps her with her tax forms. His interest in her seems obsessive, but she is grateful for his help. As time goes on, Thomas helps a blind man Ezra Turner (Woody Harrelson) to get the IRS off his back. However, viewers sense there is much more to Ben Thomas than just his friendly IRS debt collector persona.
Of course, there is a deeper level to Thomas’ altruistic attitude. Director Muccino gives the audience flashes of a car accident, which plays an important part in Thomas’ life. His brother (Michael Ealy) is trying to track him down for a justifiable reason.
Revealing the tragic reason for Thomas’ actions would give away too much of the story and spoil the film for viewers. But let’s say Thomas has righteous motivations, and he does become personally involved with Emily. This leads to his ultimate sacrifice.
Will Smith portrays Thomas with insightful grasp of his character, who suffers from extreme guilt and sorrow. Yet, he has figured out a way of redemption that involves making a life or death decision to help someone live.
Rosario Dawson plays Emily with a deep understanding of her predicament. Emily is in love with Thomas, but he strangely keeps his distance until during a moment of weakness he makes love to her, which only confuses his feelings. At this time, viewers are wondering what the hell is wrong with Thomas as Muccino feeds the audience tidbits of information that would reveal the deeper level of this story.
Clearly, Thomas needs professional grief counseling. He has chosen a path of self destruction to quell his pain. Will Smith deftly acts out Thomas’ down hill struggle with effective facial nuances. When Thomas falls for Emily, Smith affects this transition with just the right expressions. The viewer can see the light returning to his eyes. Yet, the emotional pain overtakes his soul. Redemption is in sight. But it requires a sacrifice that no one should have to make to achieve it.
This film will appeal to serious film aficionados who are willing to see something different from the mainstream Will Smith again proves he has progressed as an actor to the point that he can take these more interesting roles.
by Rick Grant