Cinema Signal:

"One False Move"
A classic

. "Out of Time"

Ever since the 1992 sleeper, "One False Move" awoke me to the talents of Carl Franklin, I've consider him one of the best directors around. He is a steady hand with a sense of character and meaty drama second to nobody. Though he's come through with quite good material since then ("Devil in a Blue Dress") as well as some duds along the way ("High Crimes"), he hasn't produced an equal classic of sheer movie making brilliance. "Out of Time" doesn't rise to his earlier standard -- partly by virtue of its more commercial mind set -- but it's no failure, either. Franklin tells the story of a small town chief of police who gets so involved in a murder case that he becomes the chief suspect.

Starting out, chief Matthias ("Matt") Whitlock (Denzel Washington) has a life style we can envy. Save for the occasional drug bust, crime in his town of Banyan Key, Florida rarely rises above misdemeanor and he can spend quality time with his smoldering lover Ann Merai Harrison (Sanaa Lathan) whenever her old man is away. He does this with enthusiastic carnality while he dreams of getting his estranged wife Alex Diaz-Whitlock (sultry Eva Mendes) to reconsider her suit for divorce.

Of course, nothing's ever perfect with anything, and the thorne in Matt's side is Anne's abusive husband Chris (Dean Cain), an ex-NFL quarterback. But the chief proves over and over that he is capable of scraping out of every bad choice -- a disaster waiting to happen -- making us suspect that he's not exactly a paragon of the community he protects.

The nature of the disaster is first indicated when we learn that the precinct safe contains heaps of drug money awaiting collection by the ATF. Why is it that this bit of intel provokes a seed of doubt to sprout in the "oh-no" areas of our minds? To nurture it and give it conscious wing, Ann informs Matt that she's been diagnosed with terminal cancer and that she's made him the beneficiary of her will. Marvelous gal, certainly worth turning over the drug money to for an experimental treatment in Switzerland. Is this guy judgement impaired, or what?

When two bodies turn up in Ann's house the day after he was with her and nearly caught by husband Chris, Alex takes up the investigation with Matt a not altogether cooperating ally. When Ann's insurance papers show up naming him the beneficiary, it's another "oh-no" moment, only this time for Alex, who seems to be carrying the same torch for him as he has for her. She is trying very hard to believe he's not a killer though it's unavoidable that he's the handy, if not prime, suspect.

It's also clear, by now, that his problems are becoming very consequential, magnified by covering up his being with Ann. He digs himself deeper and deeper into a mess of his own making, and the ATF's pressure to turn over the drug money that he no longer has only makes matters worse.

The fun of this is that we know he's innocent of the crime, but we also know that he could end up behind thick walls. He's less than a perfectly upstanding officer of the law but, all the same, he has no trouble keeping us on his embattled side.

Franklin exploits his leading man's sympathetic magnetism to turn up the level of suspense and tension with Hitchockian playfulness. He mires him in potential incrimination in a study of the close call and clever invention, and it's well paced to provide steady involvement. It may not all be perfectly plausible, but it sins less than many another thriller without Washington's complex cool.

The question of making it come out right holds you in its grasp to the end, and makes it work. The tonal stylishness of the photography by Theo van de Sande creates a noirish atmosphere to the sea-side setting while composer Graeme Revell adds his Caribbean colors to a brightly wound palette of summer fare.

                                      ~~ Jules brenner
                                               Cinema Signals  

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Eva Mendes and Denzel Washington
Fellow officers of the law, estranged married couple

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