The films of maverick Spanish film director Antonio Hernandez can be divided neatly into the categories of very good and very bad, with Killing Time an example of the former. A clear homage to another director with the initials AH, this is a smart contemporary item which starts out by asking interesting questions about when voyeurism should become involvement, later devolving into a standard if effective noirish tale of a man surviving on his wits. Featuring a busy, crumpled central performance by Ben Temple that goes a long way to making up for its defects, Time deserves to make a killing on the indie festival circuit.
The precredits show on-the-road businessman Robert (Temple, a Spain-based U.S. actor) setting up a meeting with an online escort, flashing-eyed Sara (Esther Mendez), from a Madrid hotel. In Spain to audit a bank, he is traveling with the far more gregarious Nicholas (Frank Feys). Back in the U.S., Robert has problems: a wheelchair-bound, catatonic mother, nicely counterpointed by his online relationship with the vibrant Sara; a punky, rebellious teen daughter; a tragic backstory; and a sense of guilt about how little time his job allows him to spend with what remains of his family.
Hi-tech meets lowlife
Robert falls too deeply for Sara when they meet at her down-at-heel apartment. As he chats online with her later, a couple of thugs, threatening Boris (Yon Gonzalez, a little too sexy) and comically incompetent, brutish Diego (Aitor Luna) enter her abode and start demanding money. Horrified, Robert logs off, but his conscience gets the better of him, and he is soon involved in an attempt to get the endangered Sara — and her baby — out of danger, as he views the unfolding events from back at his hotel.
Essentially, Hernandez has fashioned a neat little noir plot from minimal dramatic resources and framed it on a computer screen, which brings an added dimension to things: To what extent has the Internet turned us into bystanding voyeurs rather than participants? Time is at its best when it briefly tackles such issues, but inevitably weaker and more deja vu during the face-offs between Robert and Sara’s somewhat nondescript captors.
Robert thinks that everything can be resolved with money, his daughter complains, and sadly the film does little to disprove that, especially if you align the money with superior technological expertise. But this pessimistic, unappealing vision is undercut by the unlikely beacon of hope that Robert represents, a character who works against stereotype in showing that not all corporate suits have to be bad guys, too. Temple does good work, playing Robert with one eye on Jack Lemmon, even under extreme stress never looking more than harassed, and completely and refreshingly nonheroic, his glasses sitting comically and uneasily atop his nose as he tries to be good.
The credibility of the character counterbalances the occasional excesses of a plot that nonetheless feels cruelly plausible in a world where only money matters. Some viewers will complain that there are stretches where Time drags, but Hernandez’s aim is to show how such an extreme situation might actually play out in the life of a noble, though not too noble, everyman, with all the uncertainties and hence pauses that implies.
The film also deals tangentially with issues of immigrant abuse and, perhaps excessively, organ trafficking. Robert’s nondescript driver apart, its portrayal of Hispanics is comic book negative, with neither Gonzalez nor Luna able to shake off their stereotypical air. A couple too many unnecessary characters have been squeezed in. But the debutante Esther Mendez is solid and credible in a challenging role in which she’s largely forced to deliver to camera.
A sidestory about a company whistleblower is casually thrown in and quickly resolved; it fits neatly into the film’s themes of privacy and revelation, but is dealt with too briefly to earn its dramatic keep. DP Javier Salmones likewise rises well to the challenge of having to keep things visually interesting within the single, immobile frame of a computer screen.
Production companies: Matar el Tiempo, La Canica Films, Kaliu y Laberinto
Cast: Ben Temple, Yon Gonzalez, Aitor Luna, Esther Mendez, Luisa Martin, Frank Feys
Director, screenwriter: Antonio Hernandez
Producers: Beatriz Bodegas, Ramiro Acero
Director of photography: Javier Salmones
Production designer: Pepe Dominguez
Costume designer: Cristina Martin
Editor: Lucas Noya
Composers: Antonio Galeano, Luis Ivers
Sales: Matar el Tiempo
No rating, 110 minutes