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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Canadian Film Review: Real Time (2008)

* * *

Director: Randall Cole
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Randy Quaid

90 minutes. That’s all the time Andy (Jay Baruchel) has left to make things right before a lifetime of misdeeds catches up to him. It is perhaps a thin premise, but writer/director Randall Cole makes the most of it and manages to create a fairly compelling film out of what is essentially two characters having a series of conversations for an hour and a half. As the film approaches the end, however, you start to sense a bit of panic on Cole’s part: either the film will end honestly but grimly with Andy’s death, or a means of saving Andy will be discovered, leading to an inescapable feeling of falseness.

Andy is a gambler and has been since he was a teenager. He’s in debt to everyone and no one wants to give him another chance – he’s wasted all the sympathy anyone will ever have for him due to his recklessness and because of his attitude. And still, all he can think about is that next big score. The first time we see him he’s pacing up and down the street, trying to decide whether his luck would best be used on scratch tickets or at the track. A car pulls up beside him and the driver tells him to get in. The driver is Reuban (Randy Quaid) and he’s been dealing with Andy for years. This time, however, he hasn’t been sent simply to collect or to rough Andy up; he’s been ordered to take Andy out. Andy tries to talk his way out of it, but even Reuban has had enough. He’s going to kill Andy but, since he doesn’t have to be anywhere until 3 p.m., he decides to give Andy until then to make a few amends and maybe set things right with some of the people he’ll be leaving behind.

For someone with less than two hours to live and who has messed up with a lot of people, Andy has a hard time thinking of what it is he wants to do. His first thought is to visit a hooker he knows of who looks like Rosie Perez, but it turns out that she’s not working that day, so that’s a bust. He then decides to visit his grandmother and uses that as a pretence for an attempt at escape. This results in him hurting his leg a little when he jumps from the second storey of his grandmother’s house and then hurting his leg a lot when he subsequently dares Reuban to shoot him. Reuban is understandably annoyed by Andy’s behavior. This is his last last chance and he’s pissing it away just like he has every other chance he’s been given. He delivers a monologue in which he explains to Andy why it is that he gave him this last chance and why he ultimately feels some guilt for Andy’s current predicament. And then it’s time.

As the film's opening moments unfolded before me, I was prepared to really dislike it. Baruchel’s performance seemed like it was going to be one built on intense affectations and Quaid, for some reason, has an Australian accent. Very quickly, however, the film settled and seemed to find its centre and it became apparent that Baruchel and Quaid had such complete control and understanding of their characters that any trepidations faded away. It helps that the two actors play off of each other extremely well and manage to make the relationship between their characters multi-dimensional. Obviously, on a surface level, Andy and Reuban are antagonists - one wouldn't have to have anything to do with the other if all were well in accounting - but there's a strange sort of affection between them as well. For Andy, whose mother is dead and whose father is a deadbeat, Reuban is one of the only consistent figures in his life. Reuban, for his part, seems to relate to Andy in an almost paternal fashion, exasperated by his screw ups but also trying to knock some sense into him and set him on the right path before it's too late. Which brings us to the film's ending (spoilerish, be warned)...

Will it surprise you to hear that Andy is still alive at the end? Reuban decides to give him another chance and bail him out of his present difficulty, a development which might have worked if it didn't come right on the heels of Reuban's speech about how he wished he hadn't bailed Andy out when he was 13, since letting him suffer the consequences of his bad decisions might have inspired him to change his ways. Now, granted, if the film ended with Reuban killing Andy, it would be kind of depressing because despite his idiocy, you do start to feel for him a bit through the course of the film. However, it also would have felt true whereas the ending as it is just feels like a cop out. That being said, the film is still worth a look. The first few minutes and the last few minutes are less than perfect, but everything that comes in between is so good and so well acted that those missteps are easily to forgive.

1 comment:

A. Gonzales said...

I was just going to use this picture for a forum thread on "surprising performances" but great review, i thought the ending was fine, but like you were getting at, foreshadowed with Quaid's speech. The acting is the best performance i've seen from either of them, Quaid especially.