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 Out of Time
 Critic's Rating
   [B+]
 Date Posted
   4th January, 2004
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Cast: Denzel Washington, Sanaa Lathan, Eva Mendes
Director: Carl Franklin

Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington) is a flawed but likeable man. He is the chief of police in a small Florida town, is mostly well known around the neighborhood but finds himself having an affair with his high school sweetheart Ann (Sanaa Lathan). Its seemingly ok for Matt to participate in the indulgence, since he has (almost) finalized a divorce with Detective Alexandra Cole (Eva Mendes), but his immoderation can still be considered a crime since Ann has yet to find her own way out of her troubled marriage to Chris (Dean Cain, who once played Superman on the popular TV series).

When both Ann and Chris turn up apparently missing, with a bag full of money from a drug bust that Whitlock was responsible for safekeeping, he becomes the prime suspect in an investigation headed by his ex-wife Cole. Welcome to director Carl Franklin's version of a jazzy film noir set in sunny Florida where Washington may seem odd at first with his bright summer shirts but with the aid of his assured performance and the quick, edgy pacing, Franklin elevates what could have potentially been a by the numbers thriller to a higher level.

How everything uncoils is part of the reason for the success. 'Out of time' for most of its first act, is akin to an urban relationship drama with scenes of marital conflict which it later builds upon to perform the obligatory twist and turns. Secrets are revealed slowly and only when needed to maximize impact and bring about a convenient bump when things get too smooth. It's almost like cheating yet remains forgivable when we discover it's done with a certain skill that distinguishes it from the work of someone who has constructed it to distract us from obvious flaws in the script. Not that 'Out of Time' doesn't have any; it does, especially in the contrivances that we're asked to accept with how Matt comes out of numerous tight situations because he isn't necessarily the smartest person, but because he is the most self-aware and responsive.

Many will find the scenes set in the police station during the course of the investigation to be the most amusing. Imagine being the prime suspect in a crime where you are yet to be identified, but having to remain within the premises to both help conduct that same investigation and try to derail it slightly and for short durations, to buy yourself enough time to make the next move ahead of everyone else. Cell phones, fax machines and emails all prove to be instruments of the next big clue or the next gripping surprise, whichever happens first. Paranoia fuels action, making Denzel's character as jumpy as a cat caught with his head in the garbage bin.

Eva Mendes gets a chance to dazzle with a good a performance that only hints at greatness, when an opportunity to throw a predicament towards the end with a mystifying character motivation is sadly not taken. The final resolution is imperfect and annoying, turning almost flaccid, having much less motivation then everything before it had. That should not however prevent anyone who wishes to let himself be entertained by a first rate taut thriller from watching this. - Faizan Rashid

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