TIFF2012: The Time Being

The Time Being is the work of a promising artist with great cinematography, music, and visuals. Sadly, the only thing that isn’t fantastic is the story.

Daniel (Wes Bentley) is a struggling artist with the opportunity of a lifetime to make some easy dough. Commissioned by a mysterious and wealthy benefactor (is there any other kind?) named Warner Dax (Frank Langella) to record a series of videos for thousands of dollars, Daniel seizes the opportunity and leaves his artistic integrity at the door. Well, okay, maybe he doesn’t entirely leave his artistic integrity, but he certainly doesn’t shy away from an increasingly specific set of demands (film a sunrise, film a group of children playing in a specific playground, go to a museum at a specific time to record a tour, etc.). Astute viewers will understand the motivation behind the tapes pretty quickly – which is unfortunate as the film spends the majority of its running time building up this “mystery.”

The film works well, really well, in the initial ten minutes. Daniel sits in a dark room staring at a blank canvas, waiting for inspiration to strike. When it does, the soundtrack takes on a horror-film quality with accompanying close-ups of dark, black brushstrokes. Shortly afterward there is a quick scene in a gallery, where only one of Daniel’s paintings is sold (to whom…just guess). One potential buyer sneers at Daniel’s work and asks him if he can paint anything besides monochromatic still life’s. It’s a portrait of the life of a failing artist.

Beyond that initial promise, the film devolves into a paint-by-numbers affair. Touted as a “psychological thriller” (though without thrills or much torturing of the psyche) the film hits familiar story beats such as the neglected wife but neglects to provide any basis for these events outside of the fact the script dictates it to happen. The most gregarious example of this is the assignments Daniel has to complete for Warner throughout the film amount to three (count ’em – three) videotaping sessions at specific locations at specific times. He also has deadlines to deliver the tapes the next day. Essentially this whole process should take (according to the timeline set within the film) about six days. Which is why it’s a bit strange when Daniel’s wife feels like he never spends time with her anymore and she hasn’t seen him for over a month and a half. Wait, what? It’s jarring sequences like this that remind us of the strings controlling the characters – otherwise their actions and dialogue don’t make logical sense.

The biggest flaw of the film (and ironic considering it’s title) is the sense of time. The criticism mentioned above could’ve been easily avoided with a 45-second montage of Daniel recording in various locations – demonstrating the passage of ample periods of time. Instead, the whole film feels like it could take place in the space of a matter of weeks, but for the characters reminding us that its been much longer.

It’s worth a look to appreciate the technical and visual aspects of the film, it’s just too bad there’s nothing to appreciate in the story.

Grade: C+

Sidenote: This is director Nenad Cicin-Sain’s first film. I think he’s got a promising career ahead of him and I’m interested in seeing what he does with a script that is not his own.

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