TIFF 2012: ‘The Time Being’ a gimcrack drama that contrives its own importance

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The Time Being

Directed by Nenad Cicin-Sain

Written by Nenad Cicin-Sain and Richard N. Gladstein

USA, 2012

It seems like Wes Bentley is stuck in some kind of inauspicious circle. In 1999, he, like every other benefactor in the film, was elevated to instant recognition when Sam MendesAmerican Beauty burst onto the scene (at TIFF no less). Playing the dodgy camcorder shutterbug Ricky Fitts, Mr. Bentley has been hard pressed to find a notable role since, until his performance as Seneca Crane in the 2012 movie adaptation of the popular book, The Hunger Games.

Seemingly back on form, Nenad Cicin-Sain’s The Time Being, however, has Mr. Bentley play a similar character to his breakout role in American Beauty, and one has to wonder if his career arc is again on the decline; especially considering the fact that this movie isn’t nearly as incisive

In The Time Being, Mr. Bentley is Daniel, a husband, father, and struggling painter. At an unsuccessful art gallery showing, Daniel sells just the one piece and is instructed to bring it to the buyer’s house for extra ‘commission’. There he meets Warner (Frank Langella), an infirm man who’s as brusque as he is old.

After quick formalities, Warner delves into business and gives Daniel an offer he can’t refuse. In exchange for a significant lump sum, Daniel is instructed to film peculiar and, at first glance, banal subjects on a camcorder: sunsets, children playing, art galleries. Evokes a certain character in a certain 1999 film, no?

As the demand for more footage mounts, Daniel’s family dynamics are strained, and things take a turn for the interesting when we learn how Warner is living vicariously through Daniel’s recordings.

Although it’s quite clear that this isn’t the director’s first time behind a camera, the fact that The Time Being is his first directorial feature is quite evident. A veteran of music videos, documentaries, and film art installations, Mr. Cicin-Sain’s has a keen knack for ornamental visuals, but not enough attention to narrative syntax.

The entire moral of the story is the idea that an overly obsessive dedication to one’s craft will jeopardize the only thing that matters – family. While this works incredibly well with Warner’s story, the message doesn’t have the same effect on Daniel’s.

Before the introduction between the two, we never get a sense of how ‘bad’ Daniel’s family life was. In fact, by all accounts, they seem quite happy. The turbulence in his home life is directly due to his involvement with Warner’s projects, and although this endeavor eventually causes an epiphany within Daniel, it’s important to note that the problems were created, in the first place, by the contract between them.

It’s like giving someone the chickenpox on purpose, on the grounds of curing that person of chickenpox. If Mr. Cicin-Sain spent more time on a proper and more solid back-story, instead of spending so much effort on flowery imagery, he could’ve made the conflict more believable and more necessary.

As it is, The Time Being is a gimcrack drama that contrives its own importance. The musical score is invasive and pushy, trying too hard to be visceral, and Mr. Bentley, aside from looking like a scruffier Tobey Maguire, puts in a rather humdrum performance. Both he and director Cicin-Sain are overshadowed by the reliably gravitas acting of Mr. Langella, and, for Mr. Bentley, who is a good actor, it looks like he’s headed for another slump. Hopefully he won’t, but based on the trends of history, and for The Time Being, it doesn’t look too optimistic.

– Justin Li

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6-16

For more information and tickets, please visit the official website

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