Aimee Lagos’ debut feature 96 Minutes has the right material to be a powerful, emotional rollercoaster along the lines of Paul Haggis’ Crash. It has multiple stories about different people from different backgrounds; there are themes of growing up and seeing the world around you; and the cast of unknowns is, for the most part, pretty decent. However, the film just feels like a quick run through of something that not only has been done many times before, but it’s also something that could have been so much better.
The comparisons between the Academy Award winning film and this indie, which premiered at last year’s SXSW, will certainly be brought up by many. Both films deal with racism but 96 Minutes also deals with class warfare and the pressure of being in a gang. Lagos, who also wrote the screenplay, shows she is not afraid to explore tough themes, but the approach she takes is bland and a little too formulaic.
Set in Atlanta, Georgia, the plot spans over the period of one day. It follows four different people who will eventually come together by the end. Lagos intercuts between the climax and the lives of the individuals before that moment. There’s Dre (Evan Ross), the former gang member turned scholar; Kevin (Jonathan Michael Trautman), the troubled teen who plays video games, lives with his abusive mother, and dreams of becoming a gang member; Carley (Brittany Snow), who is just about done with college and contemplating going to law school; and Lena (Christian Serratos), Carley’s friend, who discovers her boyfriend was cheating on her.
They all meet when Kevin makes a failed attempt at carjacking Carley’s SUV. Kevin, who has every desire to want to be in a gang, decides to break out into his bad boy persona and takes the girls hostage. This leads Dre to figure out if he should help his friend, or find a way to remove the two of them from this situation.
96 Minutes only lasts about 93 minutes, which is a good run time for some films – but not this one. With the amount of characters and different stories it tells, the short run time doesn’t give the film any room to develop. We see Kevin as this constantly angered teen that comes from a hard background, but that’s all we really know. His mom has an abusive boyfriend, and we only see him in one scene. Trautmann’s only emotion he brings to his character is pouty and thuggish. His facial expression remains the same in every scene, and even after the big coming together scene, he doesn’t change a bit.
The one actor in the film who actually shows some serious emotion is Ross. His character is trying to get his life back on track when his best friend throws a wrench into his plan and possibly screws up his path to redemption. Ross won the award for Breakthrough Performance at SXSW, and rightfully so. He brings a lot of depth to his character. Though Snow and Serratos are good in their performances, they don’t bring the same amount of power that Ross does.
Lagos collaborates with cinematographer Michael Fimognari to create a realistic look for the film. The approach works well and Fimognari is able to capture the ugly dark of night to highlight the film’s mood. As well as it does work, at times, it does make the imagery look a bit unappealing.
With 96 Minutes it’s easy to see that Lagos has potential to make an impact in filmmaking. I’m definitely interested to see what she will tackle next but as it stands, 96 Minutes is a generic shortfall that relies too much on stereotypes and cliches to tell its story. By doing so, the film doesn’t have the impact for which it’s aiming and ultimately, it feels a bit flat.