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Rated PG-13 · 2004
From Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar (The Others), this right-to-die film is based on Letters From Hell, a book by quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro (played by the magnificent Javier Bardem). The book is about the author's 30-year quest to kill himself; the movie favors the emotional over the legal, foregrounding Sampedro's relationships with his family and the various women who came to see him, rather than his up-and-down struggle with the Spanish courts. It's a wise choice, and it pays off handsomely, with rich characters and interactions throughout. The problem, which glares at the beginning and tapers as the film earns our trust, is a made-for-TV sentimentality. Even before we know Sampedro, the movie swells with import, urging us to feel the tragedy of his plight. That's a shame, as it interferes with what is real, and truly wrenching, in Sampedro's story. This kind of material does not need bolstering; a simple, straightforward approach is best. Still, Bardem comes through with flying colors, as do the supporting players. It's a flawed film worth seeing.


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