Until its unfortunate surrender to a formulaic finish, "Out of Time" is one taut, twisty and creatively startling noir thriller about a small-town Florida sheriff whose affair with a married woman begets one ethical misstep that links him to a double homicide -- with all the evidence pointing to him as the prime suspect.
Set in a sleepy but sultry burg in the Keys, where a whiff of duplicity hangs in the air like the humidity, the film stars Denzel Washington as Matt Whitlock, a casually conscientious cop fated to spend the whole movie barely half a step ahead of the his own investigators, trying simultaneously to obscure the facts and clear his name.
Seeking solace from a recent split with his fiery FBI-agent wife (Eva Mendes), Whitlock begins the story immersed in a steamy affair with Ann (the stunning Sanaa Lathan), a vulnerably sexy old flame now married to an abusive failed NFL player (Dean Cain), with whom the sheriff shares a long-running animosity.
Atmospherically gifted director Carl Franklin (who worked with Washington on the superb, underappreciated "Devil in a Blue Dress") spends the film's first act engrossing us in the depths and dangers of this heated triangle, which has its own emotional twists that lead Whitlock to a bad choice: After learning Ann has terminal cancer and has made him the beneficiary of a million-dollar insurance policy, the sheriff gives her $480,000 in drug-trade booty from his department's evidence safe so she can get away from her husband and seek the best medical treatment.
Then the rug is pulled out from under him. How, I will not spoil for you. But by the next morning, there has been an arson fire in which two bodies are found -- and all the whole set-up is designed to point to Whitlock, his adultry and the missing money. Detectives are soon closing in, ironically led by the sheriffs' soon-to-be ex-wife (who knows him well enough to recognize something is amiss), and Whitlock is barely hanging on to his wits as he alters evidence right under FBI agents' noses and races to beat them to witnesses. Yet his every deception is another potential shovel-full of dirt dug for his own grave.
With the second and third acts taking place over the course of just one day, the film's finely tuned, frenzied tension is enough to keep plot-hole examinations fleeting (they'll tiptoe back into your mind after the credits roll), as Washington draws the audience into his character's upside-down world with a heart-pounding performance of controlled panic.
Written by script rookie Dave Collard and tightly directed by Franklin (at least until he has to wrap things up), "Out of Time" moves fast and thinks sharp, but does suffer from a couple narrative hiccups. One significant reveal is dropped into the plot too early and feels like a cheap B-movie maneuver -- but such problems are nothing a smart, savvy cast can't smooth over, and the acting here is spicy and terrific.
At his most charismatic and natural, Washington makes you feel every bead of sweat and every rapid beat of heart. Despite being young, full-lipped and gorgeous, Mendes (who also played Washington's wife in "Training Day") is credible enough as an astute FBI agent to completely forgo the tough-girl act and sells her character on disarming femininity and cunning.
Lathan ("Brown Sugar," "Love and Basketball") is seductive and alluring, but definitely not the femme fatale one would expect a noir hero to fall for. Cain ("Lois and Clark") sinks his teeth into the insinuated menace of her bulldog husband, and as the sheriff's only ally, a puckishly unscrupulous medical examiner, John Billingsly ("Star Trek: Enterprise") offers uncommonly understated comic relief.
Only in the last 10 minutes does Franklin ease up on the spellbinding pressure, and when he does, the movie's grip goes limp with improbable Hollywood convention. As its tension subsides, you may find yourself thinking back to pivotal events that don't hold up to closer scrutiny. But while Franklin and Washington have you swept up in Whitlock's nightmare, "Out of Time" is a satisfying, nail-biting good time at the movies.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 3rd October 2003
Box Office Worldwide: $55.5M
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: Carl Franklin
Starring: Denzel Washington as Matthias " Lee " Whitlock, Eva Mendes as Alex Diaz Whitlock, Sanaa Lathan as Ann Merai Harrison, John Billingsley as Chae, Dean Cain as Chris Harrison, Alex Carter as Cabot, Antoni Corone as Deput Basle, Robert Baker as Tony Dalton, Ron Madoff as Detective (as Ronald J. Madoff)
Like an antidote to vacuous blockbusters, this intelligent, thoughtful drama packs more intensity into a...
This biopic gallops through the career of groundbreaking gangsta rappers N.W.A, working its way through...
Basically the perfect summer movie, this lightweight drama has a great-looking cast and plenty of...
As the ghoul from the 2012 horror hit stalks a new family, this sequel's sharply...
After setting the scene with vivid characters and some insightful interaction, the plot of this...
Both the characters and the tone have been updated as a new generation of Grizwolds...
Amy Schumer makes her big screen debut with a script that feels like a much-extended...
Adopting a deliciously groovy vibe, Guy Ritchie turns the iconic 1960s TV spy series into...