October 9 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 24   

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Denzel bounces back in Time

By Mike Arntfield
Gazette Writer

Out of Time

Starring: Denzel Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Dean Cain, Eva Mendes
Directed by: Carl Franklin

Gazette file photo
THERE'S STILL TIME TO FLIRT. Ann Merai (Sanaa Lathan) gets cozy with Matt (Denzel Washington) in Out of Time.

They say anything done well looks easy. In the case of Denzel Washington, cranking out memorable blockbuster films via his usual role as the tortured and brooding man alone in the world not only looks easy, but almost seems second nature.

Out of Time is no different, with all the conventions of the classic 1940s film noir being re-furbished and re-packaged for the MTV latch-key generation into a tight and nail-biting 105-minute roller coaster ride.

Bouncing back nicely from the propagandist flub John Q., Washington turns in a seamless performance as Chief Matt Whitlock, the respected frontman of a four-officer, laissez-faire police department in a small backwater Florida town.

Before long, Whitlock becomes embroiled in a convoluted game of cat-and-mouse putting him in the eye of a storm of suspicion and controversy surrounding a recent double homicide which he and neighbouring county investigators are tasked with investigating - an investigation which quickly points to him as the lead suspect. Add in some drug money, conspiracy theories, double crossing and a couple of women scorned for seasoning and you have a suspenseful narrative which is refreshingly unpredictable.

The film also marks Denzel's second collaboration with director Franklin. He directed 1995's Devil in a Blue Dress, which is strikingly similar in style and story and which had Denzel playing the same type of unconventional gumshoe as the protagonist.

Franklin plays up the coastal setting again in this film, this time using the forbidding obscurity of the Florida Everglades to help convey a mood and texture to the film which is pure noir. All the elements of the genre are ubiquitous throughout the film; the interludes of the muted jazz trumpet heavy with vibrato, the pounding nighttime rain, the torrid trysts with the woman of mystery and a general collage of conventions which are reminiscent of the WWII-era mysteries now largely confined to the purgatory of late night cable.

The film is slow to start and at times seems to try too hard to capture the throw-back authenticity Franklin has, for the most part, conveyed effectively, occasionally coming across as mildly campy. The revisionist motif serves well to avoid the typical modern Hollywood traps, however, as the viewer will find no gratuitous explosions, car/train/boat wrecks, dual pistols being fired with marksman-like accuracy or any of the hackneyed sell-out points usually required to validate the high admission price. Instead, viewers are left to their own devices to navigate a clever and often twisted storyline which ultimately comes to fruition in a somewhat anti-climactic climax, but one which leaves the viewer satisfied none the less.

Shortly after the film starts to get moving, an interesting sub-plot is also unveiled in the question of loyalty under duress. In an age of films telling us not to trust anybody, Franklin once again evokes a period long since forgotten, when there would always be someone there to get your back, usually in the most unlikely of places. Franklin likely could have better worked this angle between Denzel's character and the hard living county medical examiner (played by Enterprise's John Billingsley), but in maintaining the svelte running time and punchy dialogue, it was no doubt seen as peripheral.

The bottom line on Out of Time is if you're a fan of Lang, Hitchcock, Tarantino or a similar director and don't mind a little run-of-the-mill mainstream polishing, this is a film worth checking out. It's not great, but it's good. Very good.



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