a critiQal film review 88 Minutes (2008)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Dr Jack Gramm (Pacino) is a college professor who moonlights as a forensics psychiatrist for the FBI. When Gramm receives a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live, he must use all his skills and training to narrow down the possible suspects before his time runs out.

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With Al Pacino and Robert De Niro’s team-up film currently in theaters, I wanted to take a look at Pacino’s most recent film to hit DVD, 88 Minutes. Would this film serve as just another reason why Al Pacino is a truly noteworthy actor, or would this smaller film not be up to his normal standards?

Al Pacino seems to think the film isn’t really worth his time. His first appearance in the film shows him waking up in bed, a bemused and befuddled look on his face. As the film progresses, that look will be readily apparent on the viewer’s face, while he, in turn, takes on a rather sleepy appearance. Up until nearly the end, the viewer isn’t quite sure what Pacino is doing in this film. Has his career really taken this much of a downward turn, or did this one seem much better on paper?

Pacino, usually a consummate actor, never really musters up any sort of enthusiasm in his role. Instead, he delivers his lines with a blandness that will leave viewers astonished. He just never really seems to be into the role at all, and gives up before he even starts. The rest of the film, he’s just going through the motions.

The rest of the characters, from LeeLee Sobieski to Amy Brenneman, Neal McDonough and Alicia Witt, do their best to make up for Pacino’s uninterest, but all are dowsed by the pall Pacino casts over the film.

Looking at the storyline objectively, it’s entirely possible that it sounded much better on paper. The translation to the screen, however, leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s easy to see why Pacino is so bored. With the pieces tossed together so haphazardly they make reality TV look like art, 88 Minutes is little more than a confused jumble of images with a decent-sounding plot buried far beneath.

With that mess of a picture, it’s no wonder Pacino lost interest in his character almost from the start. A simplistic approach to thrillers usually isn’t a good idea, and tossing out random plot twists without ever really getting the viewers involved in the characters seems counter-productive as well.

Unfortunately, the film also skips around a bit in the timeline. With a title like 88 Minutes, it’s plausible for the viewer to assume those minutes will be shown in real-time, as has been made popular by and, more recently, by hit show .

Instead, the film skips around, even removing almost 20 minutes of the countdown without any explanation. If the viewer is supposed to get into the character’s head as he counts down the possible last 88 minutes of his life, playing with the time is a sure way to keep the viewer at a distance.

While Pacino’s seeming disinterest in his role and his bland delivery do hurt 88 Minutes, it’s not the film’s only fault. As the film appears on the screen, the viewer gets the impression it was tossed together in a matter of days, with very little thought into how it would play to an audience.

Rather than perceiving a film that has it’s high and low points, the viewer will instead see 88 Minutes as a series of vignettes in one professor’s life. Unfortunately, since the viewer doesn’t get much insight into the character (despite some obtrusive flashbacks and a ridiculous monologue explanation by the lead character), and very little to tie each sequence together, the viewer will probably have given up hope on this film even before the film finally ends.

Unfortunately, even the ending is disappointing, as can only be expected by a film that tries to tie up these cookie cutter characters’ story with another ridiculously inept monologue that leaves as many questions unanswered as the ones it answers in great detail.

A hint for directors of future thrillers – forget silly flashbacks when an image would work just as well; don’t let your characters explain their every move – let the audience figure some of it out for themselves, or have another character work their way through the twists and turns; and finally, explosions and shooting don’t create tension all by themselves – let the viewers relate to the character before thrusting them into the main body of the film. Basically, watch 88 Minutes – and do something else.

For viewers, sure, 88 Minutes gives Al Pacino a lot of screen time, and maybe that’s good enough for some, but most of us need a bit more in our thrillers – like characters the actors can sink their teeth into, for starters.

Skip this 88 Minutes, and hope that is worth the wait.

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