Thursday, October 28, 2004

Maddening & Wonderful: Primer

In the "worth seeing" and "best runner up" category: Primer, a very very low-budget film by Shane Carruth. It is delightfully hard to describe, but "engineers accidentally discover time travel while working after hours in their garage to create a new technology startup company" comes close.

I've rarely held this opinion before, but this is an indie that begs to be remade. Not because more money would make it a better film, but because a one-pass rewrite and better actors would. In fact, those two things might make it an exceptionally brilliant film, and the execution required to realize them would be very straightforward.

What is wonderful about the film is the way that Carruth wrote his screenplay with Mamet-like overlapping and clipped dialogue, riddled with technobabble, with absolutely no regard for the audience (who are intentionally and repeatedly left in its dust), in order to make the premise seem more realistic. And the fact that it succeeds (unequivocally) at that goal is what is so appealing about watching the thing unfold. One thing is sure: you've never heard scientists talking this way in films before.

Arguably, the same verbal obfuscation is what gets the film into trouble in its third act, at exactly the moment when it needs to slow down and be a little more deliberate with its timeline. Time travel paradoxes are always a little confusing, and so require a little more patience with their audiences. This is the flaw of the film, but the execution of the first two acts is so compelling and (I risk becoming redundant here) delightful, that I'm happy to let that fact slide.

Have a look at this thing if it's playing in your area, and tell me if you feel the same way. Worst-case scenario is you contribute a few bucks to a young filmmaker who shows some serious promise.