Will Smith rolling out low-profile Oscar bid

Fri Dec 5, 2008 3:13am EST
 
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By Steven Zeitchik

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Will Smith's new drama "Seven Pounds" is rolling out to tastemakers ahead of its December 19 release, having largely flown below blogger radars until now.

Smith's role in the Sony film, as an Internal Revenue Service functionary who mysteriously drops into the lives of strangers in an apparent bid to help them, comes in a movie steeped in melancholy. That makes the drama an anomaly: It features the world's biggest movie star in a film that also is one of the season's most serious. There are grace notes about penance and sacrifice, but this isn't Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire."

While awards pundits this year have followed the time-honored tradition of priming the pump for movies like Brad Pitt's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" even before they began screening, "Seven Pounds" has avoided such attention.

Part of that is because of the presence of a global box office star; those types of A-listers historically have had to work harder to get awards attention. And partly it's the movie itself, whose pleasures derive from orienting oneself on its map and figuring out just what exactly is going on. That's why some marketing materials have been opaque on the film's plot, while the movie's handlers have asked entertainment writers to avoid giving much away.

Since it's so much weightier than anything he's done before, the role will be a litmus test of Smith's previously unbreakable box office mettle; "The Pursuit of Happyness" almost looks like "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" by comparison. (Both "Seven Pounds and "The Pursuit of Happyness" were directed by Gabriele Muccino.)

But there's also an interesting question on the awards side -- namely, what kind of chance the movie, and specifically Smith, has at the Oscars. As one consultant said, it wouldn't be surprising if the superstar wasn't nominated, but it would be equally unsurprising if Smith took home the statuette. (The movie has chances in other categories, particularly original screenplay and best actress for Rosario Dawson, but Smith is the meatier issue.)

There's an interesting list of factors for and against his bid.

"Pounds" is the kind of solemn, tragedy-infused movie one normally sees in smaller films -- think "21 Grams" and pictures of that vintage -- that haven't always been Oscar front-runners. And the role and movie don't come in with as much preset recognition as some of the competition -- it's not a historical picture like "Milk" or "Frost/Nixon" or an adaptation of a well-known work like "Doubt."   Continued...