Saturday, March 11, 2017

Movie Review: NICK OF TIME (1995) Starring Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken


Director: John Badham
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christopher Walken, Charles S. Dutton, Courtney Chase, Roma Maffia, Marsha Mason, Peter Strauss, Gloria Reuben, Bill Smitrovich
Runtime: 90 min
Rating: R for violence and language
Purchasing Links: DVD

Read the review after the jump.


Review by Popa Razvan

Directed by John Badham ("Saturday Night Fever", "Wargames"), the thriller "Nick of Time" is an overlooked masterpiece that holds up well even after 22 years. It wasn't well received by critics when it arrived in theaters in 1995, and it was a box-office bomb. And yet, it's an incredible edge-of-your-seat experience that Hollywood doesn't seem interested in making anymore in this age of overbearing CGI and overblown budgets.

Johnny Depp stars as Gene Watson, an average Joe accountant who is randomly chosen by the mysterious Mr. Smith (Christopher Walken) and Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia) to assassinate California Governor Eleanor Grant (Marsha Mason), otherwise they will kill his daughter (Courtney Chase). They give him a gun and the necessary ID to allow him access to the Governor at the hotel she's campaigning in, and send him off with only 90 minutes to complete the task. Constantly watched by Smith and failing severeal attempts to get help, Watson soon realizes that the conspiracy to kill the Governor is more far-reaching than he could have imagined and he's being set up for a suicide mission.

Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken in Nick of Time

I won't spoil more of the film as the whole fun is to watch Watson go through the Hitchockian motions of the plot. The interesting thing is that the story unfolds in real-time, constantly offering glimpses of different clocks, watches and camera timecodes throughout to keep up the illusion of time flowing realistically. It's not so overly experimental as to do everything in one shot, instead relying heavily on editing, but it's all done so seamlessly that you won't be able to tell the difference.

Depp and Walken are the main highlights here. Depp delivers a toned down performance that reminded me of the real actor hidden underneath the heavy makeup of the more excentric characters he's portrayed lately. And Walken is a true delight as he chews scenery like there's no tomorrow and gives one of his patented monologues. He's simply mesmerizing every time he's on screen.

Johnny Depp in Nick of Time

I've read a lot of criticism against the film regarding the real-time gimmick and how it signals that nothing important will happen until the very last second. I don't agree with that. The film makes the most of its entire running time and doesn't let up for a single second. A lot happens right until the final minutes, and most of it is clever and suspenseful. It may have some plot holes, but not more than any other thriller. Chances are you won't even notice them.

The movie does manage to squeeze in a not-so-subtle class conflict subplot that comes dangerously close to ruining the film's third act. It involves a disabled war veteran (Charles S. Dutton), who along with other hotel employees try to help Watson, and the resulting efforts clearly symbolize the rise of the common folk against the wealthy and powerful. I'm not entirely sure they really needed to go all-out with this one. A little more script tweaking might have worked better.

Nick of Time Johnny Depp

Other than that, I liked how the story unfolds, how it feeds us information from things happening around Watson, creating an immersive first-person experience. The cinematography also helps immensely in building an increasing sense of unease as Watson's world gets smaller and smaller with each bit of free will that is stripped away by his evil overseers. Every frame is dripping with tension.

A couple of things take away from a perfect final grade, like the not entirely believable final act that tries too hard to shoehorn a happy ending, breaking some of the hard work that went into building the real-time magic. However, that's a small gripe compared to the effective work on display throughout the rest of the movie.



  • Johnny Depp's restrained acting and Christopher Walken's scenery-chewing flamboyance
  • The real-time effect that becomes more than just a gimmick
  • Brilliant cinematography adds to the suspense
  • A story that works well and is surprisingly timely
  • Tons of suspenseful moments

  • The final act aims too hard for a formulaic happy ending
  • The class struggle subplot



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