Judge David Johnson is trying to eat better, so he'll "split seconds" with you. (Note the clever play on words, with respect to the title of the DVD. You just can't learn talent like that.)
Mental note: don't ever sideswipe Clive Owen with a 10-speed.
Clive Owen (Derailed) stars in this 1999 made-for-TV movie from the BBC, detailing the exploits of a man on the edge, and the consequences that face him when his rage takes over and he makes a deadly mistake.
Facts of the Case
Owen is Michael Anderson, a corporate lawyer who hates his job and finds only partial solace in his home-life. He's got two kids and a wife who he's been lukewarm towards. The film begins with Anderson already irked, trudging through his numbing day in the office, his mind elsewhere while a younger, more ambitious company man eyes his position.
After work, he heads to the grocery store to pick up some items for a dinner party. On the drive back, he gets into an altercation with a cyclist. The two trade verbal barbs, and when the biker kicks Michael's car, it's road rage time. Squealing tires and flashing lights later, the cyclists is down for the count and Michael has fled the scene. It's a hit and run and someone's dead.
Michael is frantic, but chooses not to alert anyone, even his wife. So he bottles up the angst, which has plenty of company with all the other angst he had bottled up. The stress begins to take its toll on his marriage, his parenthood, his friendships, and his job. Can Michael halt this downward spiral or will he be forever locked into "sourpuss mode?"
I'm a big fan of Clive Owen. I think the guy's got a kick-ass intensity on-screen. The good news for fellow fans of this British thespian is that he brings this intensity, plus a whole lot of glowering, with him to this small-screen film. The bad news—it's wasted. Split Second isn't horrible and there are some very interesting points dwelling deep within, but an overriding sense of dullness sabotage what could've been a gem.
Michael Anderson is just a miserable S.O.B., pretty much from start to finish. Save for a few surreal spots in the middle of the film—which I'll talk about shortly—homeboy goes through the entire thing pissed at the world. This extreme doldrums-dwelling is contagious and affects the pace of the movie; the whole thing feels like a long, hard slog.
And though the event that happens in the "split second" is suitably intense, what ensues never replicates the effectiveness of that scene. Anderson slow burns for the first 10 minutes, then snaps in one glorious display of road rage, and for the next hour and some change, it's all about the coping and self-immolation. It's tough to follow up on that crescendo, leaving the character simmering the remainder of the movie (until the requisite epiphany).
Look, if you want a guy to lumber around, hating life, you can't do much better than Owen's icy stare. But his façade is the only thing of note going on here. His web of guilt never spider-webs into engaging theater, and his domestic troubles with his wife (played well by Helen McCrory) is just flat-out depressing. You know what else? I just can't get past Anderson's complete breakdown of common sense. Why not report the accident? It was just that, an accident. Especially that he's a lawyer you'd think that it would have occurred to him that, "Gee, maybe it's not a great idea me running away from this scene, what with all the high-tech CSI crap police stations have at their disposal these days." Then, later, when Michael's wife asks him why he didn't tell her about the accident he replies in a particularly lame bit of writing that "it was none of her concern." Please. This guy has an advanced degree, right? Where's the analytical thought?!?
Anyway, I do want to hit upon something noteworthy about the film before taking off. At one point, Michael seems to bounce back from his malaise, even in the midst of the much-publicized investigation into the hit-and-run and his own intense feelings of remorse. He flirts with his wife and smiles a lot, mannerisms drastically different from anything we'd seen before. It's almost as if his act of deadly aggression freed him somehow from the oppression of the daily grind. This personality metamorphosis proves to be short-lived, as it's not long before Michael descends once more into his abyss of anguish. Director David Blair was playing with something interesting here, but it was all too brief. He was onto something.
BFS threw together a basic disc. The full frame transfer is okay, though there really isn't much to do with such a gray color palette. On the sound side of things, the 2.0 stereo is surprisingly deft, especially when piped through a Pro Logic II decoder. Some text-based cast profiles are it for extras.
Clive Owen is great as usual, but on the whole, Split Second is a dull, tedious grind, much like the main character's life. I was constantly checking the "time elapsed" numbers on my DVD player.
The accused is charged with three counts of "Hit-and-Meander."
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