Time Code

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 10/18/00 23:54:24

"Figgis breaks new ground. Your question, did it need breaking?"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Nobody is going to leave Timecode thinking 'seen it all before', and if there's one thing to recommend the film for, it's Figgis' brave originality. For those who haven't heard, what he's done is put together a big ensemble cast, set up four digi-video cameras, gun them all at once and have them follow different characters as the actors fly about by the seat of their pants, making up dialogue as they go, drifting in and out of set and shot, wandering downtown, in and out of cars, into new stories and out of old ones, for 96 minutes. After they were done with this moviemaking sprintrace, they put the four individual 96 minute reels together and show them all at once, in splitscreen, so you can choose your own edit of the flick just by switching your vision to a different quadrant. It's actually quite a feat, a dead set achievement of timing and improvisation. The question that begs to be answered is, did it need to be done?

Certainly the feats achieved in making Timecode beat the heck out of those achieved making the Blair Witch Project. It looks like a studio film. The reduction of size of each of the four video screens means the usual problems associated with blowing digital video to the big screen are negated. The pixelisation that Blair Witch suffered is gone here, as each screen is a quarter size and too small to notice the blockiness of video to any noticeable extent.

Similarly, the on-the-run dialogue creation also gives certain scenes a real reality feel. There's something about seeing Salma Hayek having to think about what she wants to say, then coming out with the words as they hit her that propels her acting skills higher than the lame parts she's taken to date ever could. Similarly, Stellan Skarsgaard, a decent actor but one still bearing the heat of appearing in Deep Blue Sea, is allowed to stretch his wings and extend his acting bazooka to full length: maximum accuracy, maximum damage. Skarsgaard goes off as a grizzly old Hollywood exec who has allowed life to just about drown him and really steals the show from veterans like Holly Hunter and Jeanne Tripplehorn, despite their able turns in their respective roles.

The story is very much the stuff of major underdevelopment. A Hollywood production company is going through the motions of another day in the office, a few earthquakes, a gun-crazed freak, an artist who wants money to make uncommercial crap, a shonky director, a drug-addled producer, his frustrated wife, a Mexican actress-to-be who's screwing the producer, her jealous lesbian lover who's bugged her bitch and listening to every move she makes, the local security guard cum dope dealer, yada yada yada. Nothing really happens until the end, but the story ain't the hook. The format is the big sell here. If you buy a ticket, you're coming to see something brand new, way different, untried, untested.

The four screen technique is a little tough to come to terms with early on. As we're all used to the standard big ass vision on a big ass screen, it does take some time to get used to this new way, especially as Figgis takes his sweet time putting all four quadrants to into action. But as time rolls on, the technique not only feels comfortable, but in many ways advantageous to the norm. When a camera comes around a corner to find two actors in the middle of a conversation that you know they've been holding off-camera for ten minutes just in case a camera showed up, it gives you a buzz. Like a "hey, that's nifty, we just busted in on them" kinda thing. Because people are tripping over furniture, fluffing sentences, speaking over the top of each other, it feels less staged than a traditional Hollywood flick though, somewhat ironically, this lack of staged perfection makes it feel more like a stageplay.

There are downsides. The earthquake sequences, where everybody starts to fall over, but flower vases on desks stand motionless, bring you back to earth rather quickly. And the continous references to a project exactly like Timecode itself within the film are a little wanky and self-fluffing. But given the budget, time constraints, bold creativity and some of the performances of the ensemble (except for Saffron Burrows who must die), there's plenty to appeal to the discerning filmgoer. Figgis has given 'cinema in general' a reason to think beyond the box. It all makes Timecode an important work, if not a fantastic flick.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.