Directed by Mike Figgis
Review by Matt Heffernan
Several films have attempted to tell a story in real time. In Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, Gary Cooper had the running length of the film to prepare for a confrontation. Hitchcock took the concept a step further (four years earlier) with Rope, which was made to look like one continuous shot. Since 35mm reels can only hold about 10 minutes of footage, he had to time each shot to end on something static, then start filming with a new reel from the same perspective. With the advent of digital video, a decent-looking feature can be made in one true shot, and that is what Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) has set out to do.
Since he has assembled a large ensemble cast, one camera wasn't enough to catch all the relevant action. So, he used four cameras filming in synch, and split the final print into four quadrants, allowing the audience to see all four perspectives simultaneously. Such a creative idea would be enough for an interesting experiment, but Figgis has actually told a good story in the process.
The first quadrant to appear shows Saffron Burrows playing Emma, who is talking with a therapist (Glenne Headly). More come up, including one with Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and her lover, Rose (Salma Hayek), taking a limousine to the Red Mullet casting agency, where Rose is going to audition for a film. The other two quadrants show the action at the agency, both at the security desk and inside the offices.
Inside, Rose meets Alex (Stellan Skarsgård), an executive that she's been having an affair with. Lauren is waiting outside in the limo, but she is actually spying on Rose, with a microphone planted on her that transmits to Lauren's headphones. As Rose is auditioning with Lester Moore (Richard Edson), the director of Bitch from Louisiana, Emma arrives at the office, to break up with Alex. From there, the connections are complete, and the four perspectives continue to tell the story.
Incredibly, Figgis has prevented Timecode from becoming a pretentious work of self-indulgence. Instead, he has created an artistic satire on pretentious art. There is a real flow to the film, which is greatly supported by a score (co-written by Figgis and Anthony Marinelli) that maintains a consistent tone for all four quadrants. The soundtrack was what Figgis had the greatest control over, since he couldn't be present at all four cameras. He did have writing credit for the screenplay, but the dialogue was improvised by the actors, working from his defined story structure. What he did was control the attention of the audience by "focusing" the soundtrack on a particular quadrant. If he didn't like what Hayek was saying, he could just turn up Burrows.
Yet the audience can still choose what they want to see (and hear, even if it is a little more difficult). It makes the experience more like watching a play than a film. Not only that, but a play cast with wonderful actors. Especially standing out is Holly Hunter, who plays an unnamed executive at the agency. She proves again that her Oscar for The Piano was well-deserved by making the most wonderful expressions in reaction to the oddities about her, without saying more than a few lines. Steven Weber also shined as her partner, who added some of the funniest dialogue. The only significant flaw in the casting was Tripplehorn and Hayek, who were clearly not comfortable playing lesbians. Their scenes together are just not convincing, lacking the passion that is supposed to drive their actions.
Despite that core problem, the film still comes off beautifully. It works because Figgis knew his target -- the crap factory known as Hollywood -- and hit it with a straight shot. I think that most people would really enjoy it, except, of course, for security guards. They spend all day watching a mosaic of monitors, and going to the movies shouldn't be like work. Everybody else, enjoy!
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan