Time Code (2000)

Written and Directed by Mike Figgis
Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Saffron Burrows, Julian Sands

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Alex Green (Skarsgård) is a hotshot Hollywood producer and head of Red Mullet Productions. His wife, Emma (Burrows), is currently separated from him because he drinks like a school of fish and he's generally screwed up in the head. Emma's screwed up in the head and seeing a shrink (Glenne Headley). Alex happens to be seeing the aspiring actress Rose (Hayek), who is in turn sneaking around on her lover, Lauren (Tripplehorn). And over the course of 93 minutes, their stories will interweave and smash into each other--at the same time on the same screen.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you haven't heard the "catch" to this film--it was shot in four continuous takes using digital cameras in one afternoon. Figgis wrote a frame story, gave the actors landmarks to hit, synched-up watches, and let them improvise like mad weasels. And their stories converge on a quartered screen, with focus being drawn to one part of the screen by means of the sound mix. This kind of story, this bastard child of Joyce and Altman, could not have been told any other way without greatly diminishing the film as a whole. This is due to two main things.

First, the sheer amount of information you are being given, assaulted from four directions at once--could not have been duplicated. The interesting crossovers on the screen would not have occurred, such as watching Kyle MacLachlan in one quarter talking on a cell phone to Skarsgård in another quarter while we see the same MacLachlan through the window of Tripplehorn's limo in yet a third quarter. It's hypertextual moviemaking. The second reason Time Code would have been a completely different film is that you would have nothing to distract you from the fact that the plot turns out to be meandering and insubstantial. Sure there are some surprises along the way, along with some humor, but it's only the novelty of the means of presentation that keep you from lingering on this shortcoming for the duration. What turns out to be a fascinating film experiment also makes for a really uninteresting film for watching. Film students and whacko film buffs will boggle, but everyone else will say, "Eh?"

But the film's presentation is worth the price of admission for the most part. This is due mainly to the spot-on improvisational performances by a slew of actors, everyone from Julian Sands as a comical masseuse to Richard Edson as a put-upon director to an unrecognizable Alessandro Nivola as some whacked out Backstreet Boy clone. Definitely worth mentioning is the score by Figgis and Anthony Marinelli--I will be picking up the soundtrack of this film first chance I get.

Like I said, it's a very interesting film and like nothing you've ever seen. If it strikes your fancy, you should see it at least once on the big screen, though it would easily lend itself to repeat viewings. Anyone else, though, think of it as a novel rental. Here's hoping the DVD version will allow you to make one of the camera views become full screen.

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