The film is based on the true story of Spanish quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro who fought a 30-year battle to be allowed to die with dignity something outlawed in his country. Crippled by a cliff dive as a young man Ramon wishes he had died on the day of his accident. He lives with his religious brother who tries to talk him out of his death wish; his nephew an impatient teen who can't always be bothered to help him; and his sister-in-law who tends him like a mother. Although Ramón is bound to his bed his force of personality and generous spirit draw others to him including two very different women who vow to help him achieve his goal.
In the title role Javier Bardem is amazing despite being able to express himself only with his face. It's enough for the actor who was previously nominated for another real-life role in Before Night Falls. He somehow portrays the contradiction of Ramón--a man full of life who wants to die--so convincingly we never doubt the character. As his saintly sister-in-law stage actress Mabel Rivera has a shining moment where she tells off a priest who has come to talk Ramón out of his petition. The rest of the supporting cast is also excellent but it's really Bardem's movie.
Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar the man who brought us the mind-bending Open Your Eyes (remade as Vanilla Sky) and the spooky The Others here lends his considerable style to what might easily be another run-of-the-mill biopic. When Ramón daydreams about walking on the beach the camera flies out the window traveling over the countryside to the coast where the bedridden Ramón can no longer go. It's not just a visual metaphor for the power and freedom of thought but the director happily thumbing his nose at traditional earthbound moviemaking.