Running Time

running time

I bet you think running this site is all fun and games. Oh sure, I have an unhealthy addiction for Mahjong that I have been trying to pass off on Anna, but that is besides the point. I don’t get to just lay around all day, watching whatever I want whenever I want. I have, like, a system. A rigorous, temperamental system.

When I first started this column it was meant to be an excuse for me to finally watch certain films I had always wanted to watch when I was younger, but for whatever reason, had simply never gotten around to doing so. But while that selfishly worked well as an initial idea, that wasn’t going to be enough to fuel a column, let alone an entire site. So thus my initial idea inevitably began to expand.

Soon I began to look for films that would push me out of my comfort zone, as well as those that would have appealed to me when I was a youth. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to include reviews of true independent films and hard to find foreign films as well. Finally, I began to track down movies that were out of print or simply never released in the US. And as I added on each new group of films, the list of movies I planned to watch and review grew increasingly larger and more daunting.

As of now I have well over 200 films that I have filed away to watch and that number seems to grow every week. I’m starting to get a backlog of screeners that I keep meaning to post reviews on. Anna, exasperated at watching what I want, has taken it upon herself to now find movies for us that she wants to see and is now adding them to our Netflix queue, thus adding even more films to my plate. And as my backlog keeps growing and growing, it only leaves me to wonder just where am I going to find the time for all this?

Carl (Bruce Campbell) has just been released from prison after serving five years for a crime that he didn’t commit. Now faced with a future with no job and even fewer friends, he unveils a scheme to rob a corrupt laundromat run by his former prison warden. The problem is, if he doesn’t pull this job immediately then he can never pull it. Leaving him less then one hour to set his plan in motion. But he better hurry, because the clock is ticking.

Running Time is one of the first films that I had my eye on to watch for this column. It was a relatively unknown independent film, and since it had fallen out of print DVD copies were difficult to find. As an added bonus it starred a relatively known actor (Campbell) who had a large enough following that hopefully more then a few people might find the review and then seek out the film themselves. But therein lied the problem.

Because it did star someone with a strong fan following, and coupled with the limited DVD release, it was a bit more difficult then I imagined to actually find a copy of Running Time. Not that it was all that hard, eBay typically has a copy or two floating around for sale, but since the demand outpaced the supply, Running Time is typically selling for a price that I wasn’t willing to pay (Over $25.) So I waited. Nine freaking months I waited! It was then that I finally found a copy of Running Time that was well within my preferred price range. But would it be worth the wait?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Running Time. I knew it was a serious crime drama, but with such a low budget and ambitious shooting style I had concerns that the film wouldn’t be able to pull this difficult balancing act off. The opening of Running Time certainly didn’t dissuade my early pessimism. The early shots focus simply on Carl being released from prison and getting well wishes from the warden and a select number of prison guards as the camera circles around them. Hardly ground breaking stuff. But as Carl is escorted out of the prison and the camera begins to stalk him, hints of something potentially special begin to emerge.

It is once Carl leaves the prison and meets up with his former partner Patrick (Jeremy Roberts) that Running Time begins to unveil its secrets. While the job is still being alluded to, let alone explained, Running Time flies past those “distractions” first for a surprising sex scene to an avalanche of obstacles for Carl and his cronies to circumnavigate at a moments notice in real time, all while the clock keeps ticking down, and the time left to pull the job quickly begins to slip away.

But while the buildup before the robbery is incredibly effective at building tension, it is when the heist finally occurs that Running Time reaches a fever pitch. With the seamless real time style the viewer is never given a chance to catch their breath, and they are dragged against their will into Running Time’s dreary and downtrodden web. Each second becomes unbearable as Carl and his cronies struggle to finish the heist with as few complications as possible, if they don’t turn on each other first.

As always Campbell steals the show, but far from how his fans have come to expect. Campbell is pitch perfect casting as the strong willed and quick witted Carl, a man serious about committing one last crime so he can finally escape yolk of the prison system forever, but equally willing to toss off a verbal barb that always seems to find its mark. This isn’t the goofy, fun-loving Campbell easily found in his most notorious and loved B-movies, this Chin is focused and driven and acting his ass off.

But the true genius of Running Time is how well the single continuous shot is integrated into the story. While it appears that Running Time is filmed in a single take, in actuality there are thirty cuts secretly strewn throughout the film. Writer/director Josh Becker (Alien Apocalypse) has done an outstanding job of writing the cuts into the framework of the story, creating a completely realistic world in which the story is able to thrive. And thrive it does.

Unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the film to which Running Time is paying homage too, Running Time is far more adept at hiding its cuts. Whereas Hitchcock would often employ a static shot to act as a transition, the cuts were still plainly evident and could even be jarring when they occurred. But Running Time exploits the screen by using quick camera turns, or even moving objects as interference while the cuts occur. So instead of having a rather obvious jolt of a changeover, the action on screen moves seamlessly, allowing the story to dictate the pace of the film rather then the editing.

This results in a slow burn of a story as the clock keeps ticking and tensions mount. There are no cuts away from the action, and nothing to shield the audience from arguments and their fallout, and because of this each moment adds to the next. Growing and growing, as if exponentially, until the viewer knows something must happen to make everything stop, and when it does the film simply keeps on moving, forcing the audience to maintain pace with this truly thrilling roller coaster ride until its perfectly sublime end.