96 Minutes (2011)
“Out of options. Out of control. Out of time.”
Director: Aimee Lagos
Cast: Brittany Snow, Evan Ross, Sharon Conley
Synopsis: The story of 4 lives slammed together in a shocking moment. Intercutting between a carjacking and the separate stories of the 4 kids in Atlanta, we watch as they hurtle toward a life-changing end.
If you think you’re having a bad day, spare a thought for poor Lena (Christian Serratos) in Aimee Lagos’s criminally under-rated 96 Minutes. First of all, she discovers that her boyfriend is a serial womaniser, then she writes off her car by driving into a tree. After going out for a consolatory drink with her friend Carley (Brittany Snow – Would You Rather), she’s then shot in the head by disenfranchised youth Kevin (J. Michael Trautmann) and his friend Dre (Evan Ross) before being bundled into Carley’s car and driven around Atlanta for more than an hour-and-a-half.
But Lena isn’t really the focus of Lagos’s movie: it’s more about Dre, a gang member who’s intelligent enough to understand that gang life is no life at all, and that academic endeavour is the key to escaping from the Projects. The incidents, which were inspired – but definitely not based – on true events, take place on the day that Dre learns he will successfully graduate from high school. Just as all that hard work and sacrifice appear to be paying off, however, his cousin Kevin, a white kid who talks like a black and aspires to nothing more than being accepted into the gang to which Dre belongs, finally snaps after seeing his mother abused by her lover. When Kevin carjacks Lena and Carley after learning that Dre is behind his failure to be indoctrinated into his gang, Dre feels compelled by a tacit street code to back him up and protect him from capture by the police. The girls’ death seems the only option open to them, and we can feel Dre’s growing sense of despair as he drives aimlessly around the city.
Although Lagos sometimes comes across as having a personal agenda – particularly when it comes to the police – and devotes time to pointing out the obvious (references to the links between computer games and violent crime, for example, might carry weight if a middle class kid goes on to slaughter a few unlucky souls amongst the perfectly manicured lawns of middle-class America, but it is meaningless when the kid in question lives in the violence-ridden slums) – she unwaveringly hits the bulls-eye when focusing on the randomness of violence and how we kid ourselves into believing we are immune – or can protect ourselves – from it. Kevin’s fate is sealed from birth because of the environment in which he is reared and his obviously limited intelligence, but that fate, that problem we try to keep contained in the council estates and the projects, has a habit of touching the lives of those who believe they can live untouched by the problem.
Lagos also wrote the screenplay, creating a non-linear storyline that switches – sometimes seamlessly – between the hellish car-ride through Atlanta’s night-time streets, and the day’s events that ultimately leads to the meeting of the four key characters. The story wouldn’t have worked if it had been structured any other way, and Lagos does well to prevent the scenes set earlier in the day from diffusing the tension of the night-time scenes. It’s just a shame that she saw fit to use an annoying hand-held camera throughout.
(Reviewed 28th October 2010)