When half your film takes place in one tight location, you are really taking a gamble with your audience. Chances are you’ll either have a suspense-filled set piece, or you’ll lose your audience as they stare at their watches waiting for the credits to roll. To the director’s credit, with 96 Minutes, she was able to pull off an immersive tension-building ride through the inner city that kept me wondering how it would all come to an end.
Following in the footsteps of other ensemble pieces like Magnolia and Crash (though sadly not nearly as good as these two), this is a story about people being brought together over the course of a day and meeting during one catastrophic moment. This time the moment that brings all these lives together is a carjacking that goes horribly wrong. As the night progresses and difficult decisions are made, the lives of all involved are altered as the consequences of their actions become increasingly severe.
Through the film we follow four characters; Carley (Brittany Snow) a soon-to-be college graduate with hopes to venture into law school, Dre (Evan Ross) a soon-to-be high school graduate who is set to escape from his neighborhood and gang life, Kevin (J Michael Trautmann) Dre’s friend who is a byproduct of a broken home and lack of education, and Lena(Christian Serratos), a college student who recently discovers her boyfriend has been seeing other girls and in turn has her heart broken. Though coming from different backgrounds ,each of them share the need for acceptance, whether it be from their family or their friends, they are all trying to figure out what it is they need to do in life to simply be appreciated. It seems like this could come off as some movie of the week drivel, but instead it’s handled with subtlety and care.
The performances of Brittany Snow and Evan Ross are what shine here, being allowed to show their range that frankly I was surprised to see in Snow. Both are playing roles where they are trying to protect their friends while at the same time trying to save themselves. As they go through the ordeal together, you can see they both sympathize for the others’ situations, though they always remain loyal to their friends, and it’s through the unspoken communication where both the acting and directing is applauded here. When Dre has to decide whether to take the injured friend to the hospital or keep driving, we see the anguish of the decision and the anticipation that has Carley so hopeful that when Dre makes the decision to keep going, we just know things won’t go well.
What makes these gut-wrenching decisions all the more intense is the decision the director made to shoot handheld. We feel from the very beginning we are hanging out with the friends, that we’re voyeurs watching unnoticed, and this works all the more while inside the car. Director Aimee Lagos makes us feel that we’re inside the car with them; we feel trapped along with them. The tight shots are those you would have when looking over to the other passenger in the car where we can never see everything that is going on. It’s because of these decisions that we never feel this is a low-budget movie or that the story was ever affected by its budget.
If you liked Crash I think this movie will appeal to you. It’s a strong morality tale about the consequences of the actions we do and how quickly things can get out of hand. I like these performance-driven pieces that honestly could take place anywhere, and big sets or CG effects are not needed, but simply good acting. For the cast and the writer/director I hope this paves the way to bigger and better opportunities, because it’s clear they have the talent; now let’s see what they can do with it.