A drama based on the true story of Melvin B. Tolson, a professor at Wiley College Texas. In 1935, he inspired students to form the school's first debate team, which went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.
Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garber into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.
Matt Whitlock, the police chief of Banyan Key a small town near Florida, is separated from his wife, Alex, a police detective based in Florida. Matt's been having an affair with Ann Merai Harrison, a woman who's separated from her husband Chris and who says that she has cancer. When her doctor tells her of a new treatment that's expensive, Matt gives her the nearly half a million dollars that he seized from some drug dealers. When she turns up dead evidence points to Whitlock. He tries to figure out what's going on but apparently it appears he's been set up. So he has to try and find the money especially now that the Feds are asking for it before the evidence exposes him. Written by
Washington and Franklin give regular story some leadership and class
Nothing much seems to go on in this small, lazy South-Florida town. Just as little is done by its sheriff, Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington), a fact well illustrated in an early scene of him polishing off a beer, his legs propped up on his office desk. Maybe he's bored. Or maybe drinking beers on the job is just what one does to make it through the humid summers down there. There is one thing happening: an affair he has been nurturing on the side with a steamy young woman, Ann, who calls in an attempted robbery as a sort of thrilling preamble to sizzling sex with the sheriff when he shows up. He may be the lazy type, but you cannot say he's not careful. And the scene does sizzle. Ann is played by the very appealing Sanaa Lathan, and married to a jobless professional quarterback, Chris (Dean Cain), who spends his time working at the county morgue. It is made very clear from the beginning the only thing Matt and Chris have in common (other than Gorgeous Ann) is a mutual distaste for one another. So the stage has been set for the rest of Out of Time, a frenetic, sometimes tense thriller that, by force of star power and sure direction, just manages to elevate itself above the unremarkable genre which binds it.
Many movies before this one have told the story of the innocent man trying to extricate himself from a sticky situation, proving his innocence while at the same time trying to catch the bad guy. The Fugitive comes to mind as one of the better variations on the theme, and there are of course many lesser versions as well. In this film, it's Chief Whitlock who's stuck in a mess. And though there may or not be others involved in putting him there, he has for the most part no one to blame but himself for his lousy predicament. And of course this all involves a host of details and plot particulars which are not mine to tell. Let's just say that it involves these factors: his lover Ann; a double murder; a life insurance policy; his ex-wife investigating the murder; the D.E.A., and hundreds of thousands of dollars in confiscated drug bust money. And in the middle of this swamp of ingredients wades Whitlock himself -- caught very much by surprise, no longer bored, and now with a sense of urgency bordering on panic. And as the title suggests, time doesn't look to be on his side.
Out of Time was directed by Carl Franklin, who is capable and experienced at his craft. Two of his films, One False Move and One True Thing, were alike in more than one way. While their stories were completely unrelated, they both featured strong casts, absorbing dialog and measured, observant direction. With One False Move, a film about outlaws on the run through the deep South, Franklin was adept at controlling the pace of the story, keenly evoking suspense when needed, allowing for tense dramatic pauses when called for. He brings that element of pacing to this movie, saturating the earlier scenes with slow-burn slide guitar music and swelteringly slow shots of the Floridian landscape. Then suddenly, as Chief Whitlock becomes enmeshed in his race for time, so does the film's entire speed. That the audience stay on board through countless contrived chase sequences can be attributed mainly to Franklin keeping them there. Here he has a much less inspired story to work with, having to enlist some extra help from the actors. The supporting cast are convincing in their roles. Eva Mendes, who continues to show great on-screen promise, plays Whitlock's estranged wife. The two actors create just the right kind of chemistry as two people who are apart for good reason, it seems, but who still like each other enough to be able to have civilized conversations while working together on the murder investigation.
But the real glue holding the ordinariness together is Denzel Washington. Once again he has brought to the screen intelligence, wit, integrity and, yes, the likability quotient. He always seems to convey these appealing traits through his characters, including those we are not meant to like at all. Even in Training Day, where he played a dirty, despicable cop, much of the movie focused on his character's ability to convince his partner and us that he was doing the right thing. In Out of Time, Denzel's Whitlock is a sympathetic character, to be sure. He is generally respected by the members of the county he runs. We forgive him his faults, as we do the poor decisions he makes while painting himself into a seemingly inescapable corner. Then as the film progresses, and as his methods of extrication go from unscrupulous to outright illegal, we wonder aloud why we have been on his side through the whole thing. This man may not be a sinner, but neither is he the picture of saintliness. It doesn't seem to wash, but there you have it. But Denzel pulls it off through the whole movie, gracing Chief Whitlock with virtuous, sympathetic qualities he does not possess.
Toward the end of the movie, anyone paying attention to the clock would notice that the movie itself is almost out of time -- probably not nearly enough time to resolve the laundry list of problems Whitlock has burdened himself with. The film nonetheless scurries to its disappointing, pat resolution, careful to tighten most of the loose ends it can remember, but done with such brevity as to leave us all feeling a little pinched, and more than a little let down. This kind of pinched finish effectively washes away all of the potentially intriguing character dilemmas presented in the character of Matt Lee Whitlock. Still, the actor playing him is Denzel, so we don't mind feeling happy for him --in spite of his, and the film's, many shortcomings.
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