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
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
~~ Jules brenner