Judge Daniel MacDonald lives every day in real time.
Today could be the last day of the rest of your life.
Every now and again, someone decides to make a movie taking place in "real time." Sometimes the results are great (see Mike Figgis' excellent experimental picture Timecode); others they're not (see Johnny Depp's Nick of Time—or better yet, don't). The latest to follow this trend is Real Time.
Facts of the Case
A troubled compulsive gambler and general screw-up, Andy (Jay Baruchel, Million Dollar Baby) is making his way to the track when he's intercepted by Australian heavy Reuben (Randy Quaid, Brokeback Mountain). It seems Andy is indebted to Reuben's boss for sixty-eight thousand dollars, and, seeing how Andy's been going around town bragging about how he's going to avoid paying up, Reuben's been sent to kill him.
But, for a hit man, Reuben's a pretty nice guy; instead of taking him out right away, Reuben has decided to give Andy an extra hour or so to live, letting him straighten out affairs and say his goodbyes. How that hour will be spent is completely up to Andy.
While having a movie play out in real time can be dreadfully gimmicky, Real Time ends up an engaging little movie, with believable characters on a believable journey. It's not overly ambitious, and that's a big reason why it's successful.
The majority of Real Time takes place in Reuben's car, driving from place to place, the two leads bickering about where to go and how Andy got into this mess in the first place. It's an extremely talky picture, and writer/director Randall Cole's dialogue is appealing and funny. While liberally peppered with profanity, a common fallback for poor writing, from the mouths of these two it usually sounds natural, with Andy a real social outcast blaming everyone but himself for his problems, and Reuben the patient—but not stupid—enforcer trying to help him see the light before he walks toward it. The situations the two go through on their journey come across as somewhat contrived, especially a visit to a fried chicken joint, but we're never bored, and can hardly guess what will come next.
Real Time has a message about taking responsibility for one's own life, the futility of relying on luck, and taking advantage of what little time we have on Earth, yet it's rarely rubbed the audience's face. Instead, the film's short running time is spent doling out small tidbits of information, clues to the true nature of these characters, letting us assemble the pieces of both men's lives before they're shattered for good. While it has its amusing moments, Real Time is ultimately more of a drama than a comedy, with the weight of past mistakes deciding Andy's future.
Anchoring the film are truly outstanding performances from Baruchel and Quaid. Gaining some attention from his role in Knocked Up, Baruchel shows a great deal of range in his portrayal of Andy, never sugarcoating how much of a washout loser the character is, yet making him both identifiable and strangely sympathetic. It's clear he has earned pretty much whatever trouble has come into his life, yet we still root for him to get a last chance. I've not always been a fan of Randy Quaid, but his work as Reuben is top-notch. Delivering a consistent Australian accent, and underplaying moments where it would've been easy to go over the top, Quaid turns in a career-highlight piece of work. Interesting, given the high-profile movies Quaid has been involved with in the past, that a low-budget Canadian project would elicit the best from him.
The DVD is encoded at a high bit rate, and has a pleasingly film-like appearance. The image is quite grainy most of the time, but it's clear that is characteristic of the source material and not a flaw in the video transfer. Fine detail is reasonably clear, and the desaturated color palette and naturalistic lighting make for a visually enjoyable experience. There were no glaring examples of edge enhancement or compression artifacts. Compositions are thoughtful and appropriate, with visual and editorial references to Scorsese and other masters but never so much as to get in the way of the storytelling.
The soundtrack, dominated by Canadian rock, unfortunately gets the short end of the stick. Dull, flat, and lifeless, this is a disappointing audio presentation for a release in 2009. There's little ambience in the car or the handful of locations, and music cues sound muddled. Dialogue is clear and free from distortion, but that's about the best that can be said about Real Time's audio.
A contained, unassuming film, Real Time is effectively a two-character play projected on screen. At its center are two phenomenal performances by Quaid and Baruchel, showing a side of each we haven't seen before. Real Time is real good.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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