By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Los Angeles sucks, is the message this movie sends from its first moments at an Amtrak station pulling into the city. Gene Watson (Johnny Depp) steps off the train with his daughter and into the frying pan, when a man (Christopher Walken) and a woman (Roma Maffia) posing as police officers kidnap Gene and his daughter. The mysterious man tells Gene he must kill a certain woman by 1:30pm, or his daughter dies.
For his part as the unexceptional everyman, Johnny Depp makes for a fine piece of casting. It is unfortunate in this day and age that Depp seems required to play the goofy second-banana, as he has proven time and time again that he’s equally competent as the lead. Even more at ease is Christopher Walken, who has rarely been more menacing, with a calm voice and matter-of-fact demeanor that make it clear he means business.
I think I just shat myself…
Many critics attacked this film upon its release, claiming its premise was far too silly, pushing the boundaries of believability beyond repair. I take issue with this however, as director John Badham clearly set out to make an homage to classic Alfred Hitchcock films. The concept of dropping a person into a situation they are unprepared for and don’t fully comprehend is the basis of many of Hitchcock’s best features. Hitchcock is considered by many to be the master of suspense cinema, and one of the finest filmmakers of all time. Compare then, the rather silly twists and turns that Nick of Time makes, against such films as North by Northwest, Rope, and The Man who Knew too Much, and you’ll see that believability isn’t what makes these films great. Believability wasn’t exactly Hitchcock’s strong suit…
Protip Hollywood: Southern California looks nothing like Illinois Cornfields
From my own observations, the aspects of these films which are the most fascinating are the characters, and how they act and react to the various circumstances to which they are subjected. As the single father Gene, Johnny Depp’s life revolves around keeping his daughter safe, no matter the cost. So it is in watching him struggle to maintain control of the situation, and the creative solutions he finds to each problem along the way, that the film finds its feet.
With all of that said, Director Badham does attempt to mimic some of Hitchcock’s camera trickery to varying degrees of success. Such efforts feel in vain, as they simply cannot come close to matching Hitchcock’s flair. The film is best served by the simpler approach taken in the rest of the film. Perhaps these attempts at hyper-stylization were because Pulp Fiction fever had just taken hold. Countless filmmakers of the time struggled to make their movies appear more dynamic, without fully comprehending how to actually make it work. With that said, the film’s other aspects more than make up for this slight error in judgement.
While some attempts at flash don’t succeed quite as well as they want to, this is a stellar thriller and a pleasure to watch.
Take a Drink: when Gene sees himself falling
Take a Drink: when Walken appears out of goddamn nowhere
Do a Shot: when anyone is shot