January 6, 2004

Timecode (Review)

Before the first season of the television program "24" aired, people worried that the only thing making it interesting would be the format; the show takes place in real-time, each episode taking up one hour of a fictional day. Those fears proved unfounded, since the writing is well-paced and endowed with generous helpings of suspense, action and intrigue. That, and it's got characters which hold your interest.

Mike Figgis' Timecode has its own gimmick. It's shot in real time with 4 digital cameras. Each camera provides a continuous and unbroken viewpoint. This is accomplished by splitting the screen into four quadrants with one of the simultaneous viewpoints displayed in each quadrant. The actors are improvising within a plot framework.

Sound like an interesting gimmic? It is. And I enjoyed watching to see how he was going to keep the threads from becoming too difficult to watch simultaneously.

Unfortunately, the most interesting thing about this film is the gimmick. The actors all turn in passible, slightly flat, performances. It is quite a list of actors. Xander Berkeley, Salma Hayek, Glenne Headly, Holly Hunter, Kyle MacLachlan, Julian Sands, Stellan Skarsgård, and Jeanne Tripplehorn all show their faces, some of whom are onscreen nearly constantly (Hayek and Tripplehorn, primarily). Their improvisation adds a bit to the realistic documentary feel of the digital camera work. But at times you feel the parts are underplayed for fear of seeming unrealistic. Instead, it all comes off as drab.

The main problem, however, is the plot framework. Hayek and Tripplehorn are a lesbian couple in a failing relationship. In a bid to find out what is going on with her partner, Tripplehorn plants a listening device in aspiring actress Hayek's shoulder bad to find out where she's really going when she claims to have an audition for a new film role. Meanwhile the producer of the film (Skarsgård) is having his own relationship problems, and is leaning heavily on bottled help. His staff is scrambling to deal with an absent helmsman, an uncast film and a director who is dragging his feet. Interspersed during the course of the film are small earthquakes which help to reinforce the synchronization of the four threads of the story.

And it goes from there. However, it doesn't go very far, or to anywhere particularly interesting. Perhaps anything more complicated would be too difficult to keep track of in four simultaneous threads, but that is what they have chosen to do here.

The film does have an interesting moment or two. One humorous moment in particular is when practically the entire cast is trying to avoid danger and does what I like to call "The Timecode Shuffle." But it isn't enough for me to recommend this as a good film.

If the gimmick has you interested and you want to see these actors improvising, that may be enough for you to want to rent this. But for the average viewer, this film is a must skip. See one of Figgis' other films, like the acclaimed Leaving Las Vegas.

Posted by James at January 6, 2004 10:43 AM
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Probably the best gimmick movie I've seen recently was Memento. Very interesting storytelling technique.

Posted by: julie at January 6, 2004 12:16 PM

"Following" from the same director who brought you "Memento" (Christopher Nolan) was also a very good film.


Posted by: James at January 6, 2004 12:37 PM

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