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Review: The Time Being

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If there’s one thing I’m always looking for in film it’s Wes Bentley looking both angry and confused at a passive aggressive and manipulative Frank Langella. Perfect then that a film with just that combination has been made!

Bentley plays Daniel, a mostly unsuccessful artist whose wife supports them and their son. After a reclusive buyer known only as Warner (Langella) purchases one of Daniel’s paintings, Daniel finds himself at the emotionally elusive man’s house, where he is commissioned to complete increasingly odd surveillance projects. Through this cagey freelance work Daniel finds himself creatively motivated but also distanced from his family. And guys, Warner has a secret!

First up, let’s get this out of the way: this is not a mystery thriller. Despite what the PR put out to entertainment outlets – even to the editor of this here website – The Time Being sits in the genre of Meditative Drama; nothing more, nothing less. What’s harder to define is whether or not The Time Being is actually good. Since “art is subjective” it’s unfair to say that the film is bad; it can only be said that some would have the opinion that the film is a difficult watch.

First time writer/director Nenad Cicin-Sain certainly has a clear story in his mind but getting that story out to us in an empathetic or relatable way is not so clear. The film’s journey through family-over-art-over-success-over-money in general is easy enough to identify with but the characters on that journey are often impenetrable. Filmed competently (Cicin-Sain knows how to frame and move a camera in a pleasing way) and in a meditative manner, with many long silences and scenes of characters simply looking at things you often find yourself pondering the meaning behind the film and its choices like you would looking at a piece in an art gallery. Further pondering comes from the characters often doing inexplicable things without qualm (would you simply accept the task from a stranger to go and film children playing on a jungle gym for $1,000 with minimum protest?). A returning thought during the film’s more interminable scenes is that the story could work well as a novel, perhaps. Or maybe during those studious sequences the audience could benefit from a simple narration device. That’s not to say that audiences like to be told what to think or how to interpret situations but it might help a little more than the empty, murderishness that hangs in Wes Bentley’s blank stares.

Quite unfair, also, is that the film’s cast is quite stellar and yet they all put in confusingly lacklustre performances. Langella’s vitriol-spewing recluse is a waddling pensioner that everyone could care less about and Bentley’s compromised family man should be pulling at our heartstrings but instead we’re mostly impartial to his woes. Littering the background are the familiar faces of Sarah Paulson, Corey Stolland Jeremy Allen White, yet none of them stick out from the film’s otherwise dreary palette.

Of its 90-odd minute runtime, it is only at minute 65 that you finally begin to invest seriously in the film’s characters as they finally begin to talk about their motivations and feelings and Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s score eventually comes to life. There’s nothing wrong with a slow burn when we’re already past caring by the time the lit fuse reaches the dynamite it all seems a bit for nothing.

Available through on-demand services from 20th June, The Time Being is a decent use of your time if you like pensive films on the subject of art and the artist. Otherwise, you might be better giving it a miss.

The Time Being Facebook Page.

@sjbowron

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