11:14 (2003)

11:14 first published by musicOMH

What links a distracted drunken driver (Henry Thomas), three pranksters in a van (Stark Sands, Colin Hanks, Ben Foster), a none-too-bright convenience store worker (Hilary Swank), her equally foolish colleague (Shawn Hatosy), a stiff young lover (Blake Heron), a treacherous teen (Rachael Leigh Cook), her over-protective parents (Patrick Swayze, Barbara Hershey), a busy police officer (Clark Gregg), lost car keys, a bowling ball and a severed penis?

The answer is to be found in 11:14, a black comedy that anatomises a moment in time when smalltown idiocy suffers the most surreally awful repercussions of cause and effect.

The film opens with a nocturnal aerial view of a tyre’s skid marks clearly visible on an otherwise empty zebra crossing. An animated version of the film’s title speeds by like a car, and the camera goes with it, only to meet a different credit at an intersection, and to follow that until it is overtaken by the next credit, until finally, after an elaborate relay of cast and crew listings that race across each other’s paths, the camera comes to rest right back where it started, on the scene of the accident at the crossing.

And there it all is in a nutshell. For in Greg Marcks’ feature debut as writer and director, the different strands of a narrative criss-cross each other on the streets of the not-so-quiet town of Middleton at night, circling and converging on the fateful events that collide at precisely 11.14 – and although the looping plotlines end up exactly where they started, the accident with which the film opened can now be viewed in its full light.

Here 20 or so minutes of misunderstandings, rash decisions, double-dealing, and honest-to-goodness bad luck are stretched out over an hour and a half so that all their absurd mechanics are laid bare for the viewer in a way that the main players (even those that survive) will never properly comprehend.

This sort of storytelling, where a complex event is unravelled from multiple points of view by an ensemble of key participants, goes back at least to Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950), and was repopularised in the nineties by Quentin Taranatino’s editing room shenanigans. Most recent films of this type – Jill Sprecher’s 13 Conversations About One Thing, Gus van Sant’s Elephant, Alejandro Gonzlez Irritu‘s Amores Perros and 21 Grams, Paul Haggis’ Crash (2004) – have tried in their different ways to reflect seriously on how space, time and fate can create invisible connections between human lives; but 11:14 prefers, like Harald Zwart’s One Night at McCool’s, to mine its multiple narratives for their comic potential, squeezing every dark chuckle that it can from showing its characters caught in the fast-approaching headlights of destiny.

Marcks has cast himself as the unseen cosmic joker, and clearly relishes driving his clueless characters head-on into their bizarre karmic come-uppances, where the only moral message appears to be that minor misdeeds can be revisited a hundredfold upon their hapless perpetrators.

Thanks to a screenplay full of sharp dialogue and intricate plotting, Marcks has managed to attract a big-name cast to his first film, and the results are an impressive, if slight, calling card for a promising young talent. From early on, attentive viewers will be able to predict what is coming from a mile away (even if the film’s characters never see what hits them), but Marcks keeps things careering along at a furious pace without ever losing control of the wheel, and even reserves a satisfying twist or two for the end.

strap: First-time writer/director Greg Marcks’s 11:14 goes all Rashomon on an ensemble of characters brought into violent, chaotic collision.

© Anton Bitel