96 Minutes is one of those sincere morality films, but with a bit more nuance and rubber to burn. A favorite at this year’s SXSW and Boston film festivals, it’s a filmmakers film, with overlapping timelines, angsty starlets, and big ol’ Messages, with a capital M.
It tackles a lot of serious issues, while at the same time being a character study of its four young leads. They’re all good in it, even though sometimes they get subsumed by the film trying too hard to be a slice of Americana. You can check out our interview with the lone parental figure character in the film, David Oyelowo, here.
At its best, 96 Minutes is a build up with heart-racing tension; at its worst, it’s trying to be Crash, which really, who wants that? Not even Crash.
Director: Aimee Lagos
Release Date: 4/27/12 (Limited)
96 Minutes goes around in a few circles before it reaches its end. There are chronological loops, and quite a bit of angsty, directionless driving, until the film finally finds its groove.
The plot is simple: two teenage boys carjack a couple of college coeds with tragic results and implications that go deep. The story is told in two linear progressions, switching back and forth between each timeline, following the same four people as they go about their fraught day to day lives in one, and deal with the car jacking in the other. The structure allows for some nice build up and release of tension, alternating back and forth between the high octane moments and simpler day to day life.
Carley (Brittany Snow) and Lena (Christian Serratos) are two run of the mill, well-off college girls. They’re in the midst of getting their hearts broken by the men in their life (father and boyfriend, respectively) and seek some independence together. Dre (Evan Ross) and Kevin (Jonathan Michael Trautmann) are two run of the mill, poor-off high school boys, struggling to escape poverty and their own pasts. Dre is cool headed and on the path to college, while Kevin plays gruesome video games and has a mother who yells at him, so must be twisted and violent.
The characters come into sharper detail as we get more of their back story, since that’s what the lion’s share of this movie is: back story, with moments of climax scattered throughout like gold nuggets in the rough. Unfortunately, by comparison, most of the events of their everyday lives aren’t notable, and the movie doesn’t really get going until the taste of the upcoming/ongoing carjacking becomes more potent. When it does, there are moments of real fear, loathing, and soul-searching that make all the circle-driving worth it.
The film takes some big bites out of the American Pie, tackling issues ranging from the toll of poverty and socio economic disenfranchisement, to the importance of parenthood, to relationships between the sexes. But what really matters in the end are these kids, these individuals, dealing with these big issues. And there, the film only chews about half of what it’s bitten off.
Though we see them struggle with both the mundane and the traumatic, we never really feel like we get into the heads or shoes of these everyday young people. Clearest drawn are Carley and Dre, acting as the soberest voices of the babbling teenage mob. Even they cannot stall the carjacking, and sit paralyzed like passengers to their own demise. We still root for them to do what’s right, and the film does a good job of letting us commiserate with both sides.
After the 96 minutes, the payoff isn’t as satisfying as the climax was tense, and so we’re left feeling a little lost and bruised, just like the four kids in the car.