96 MINUTES – The Review

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This review originally ran last November when 96 MINUTES played at The St. Louis International Film Festival

Racism is never an easy topic to tackle in any medium, so when you add class warfare and the peer pressure of gang culture to the story, it triples the difficulty of pulling off a believable and sincere film. Against the odds, this is precisely what first time writer and director Aimee Lagos has accomplished with 96 MINUTES. Inspired by true events, 96 MINUTES is a story of four young lives, each of them on separate paths which violently collide.

Brittany Snow (THE VICIOUS KIND) plays Carley, an upper-middle class hard-working white college student studying law. Evan Ross (THE FAMILY TREE) plays Dre, a young black man from a gritty part of town whose determined not to fall into the gangster life, despite retaining his friendship with Kevin, played by Jonathan Michael Trautmann, a 16-year old white kid with a troubled home and dreams of becoming a gangster. Christian Serratos (TWILIGHT SAGA) plays Lena, a young Hispanic woman struggling with her failing romantic relationship.

One of the first things that came to mind while watching this film was Paul Haggis’ 2004 Academy Award-winning film CRASH. There is a parallel between the themes and styles of the two films, but the differences outweigh the similarities. You may want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you…

96 MINUTES exceeds CRASH as both a believable story and a sincere portrayal of the topics of racism, class warfare and gang culture. That’s right. This small indie film from a first time filmmaker is more successful than an Oscar-winning film from a veteran director. I’m not suggesting CRASH is a bad film, merely expressing that I felt more connected with 96 MINUTES, a film that delivers a more authentic and natural scenario, more true-to-life performances, and a far more lasting impression on the viewer.

Lagos approaches the structure of 96 MINUTES much the same, orchestrating a non-linear tale that allows us into each of the four separate lives, while also gradually building tension as she reveals the details of how these four lives violently intersect. The timeline of the film progresses forward and backward simultaneously, giving the narrative a suspenseful, edge of your seat appeal that maintains the viewer’s need for excitement, while still delivering a powerful message about the inequalities still present in our society.

96 MINUTES is presented in a cinema verite, hand held style of cinematography. The film looks good, but its unpolished by design, enhancing the assumption that everything we see on the screen is actually happening. This is an interesting, if not discouraging way of viewing the film, because the truth is the events depicted are actually happening in real life everyday. Once again making a comparison to CRASH, which I felt was overly polished, even bordering on melodramatic at times, a setback entirely absent from Lagos’ take on the subject matter.

One element of 96 MINUTES that I wasn’t expecting to be so engaged with was the score from composer Kurt Farquhar. The music ranges from viscerally tense soundscapes to influences of hip hop. Much like Lagos, the composer has clearly brought his own personal experience into the making of this movie. One other favorite factor from the film is the performance by David Oyelowo (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) who plays Duane, an uncle to another young man from Dre’s neighborhood, but whose involvement in the story is far richer and well-crafted than would be expected from a supporting character. His presence gives the film a richness of emotion in the third act and will be noticed.

96 MINUTES opens Friday, April 27th in St. Louis exclusively at AMC’s Creve Coeur Theater

Hopeless film enthusiast; reborn comic book geek; artist; collector; cookie connoisseur; curious to no end

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