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By Phil Hall | January 23, 2007

2007 SUNDANCE ONLINE SHORT! Be’ Garrett’s “A Nick in Time” is a handsome short film set in an African-American barbershop. It is late in the evening and the only people present are the elderly barber and thirtysomething male customer who is having a haircut and shave. A young man enters the shop, and his demeanor is decidely suspicious – he appears to be casing the joint and he nervously switches seats.

The patron in the chair is visibly perturbed by the young man, who picks up that troubling vibe immediately. Without warning, the old barber abruptly starts telling a story about his early days in the field, when he was given the chance to cut the hair of a prominent judge. During the cut, he made an error that could’ve cost him that job – and to make matters worse, the judge’s female aide, who accompanied her boss to the barbershop, saw the mistake. But working fast, the barber corrected the problem.

The moral of the story, the barber recalls, is: “You don’t alwas get a second chance to correct a mistake in this life.” That resonates with the young man, who excuses himself from the shop and leaves.

The film is very well-made, with a wonderful visual contrast between the barber’s youthful experience (shot in bright light and vibrant colors) and the contemporary evening (shot in an artistic darkness harshly illuminated in fluorescent lights). A light, jazzy score permeates the story without overwhelming it, and Isiah Whitlock’s performance as the old barber narrating his life’s experience is simply sterling.

There are two mistakes in this film. First, it is fairly obvious who is occupying the chair of the late-night barbershop, and revealing his occupational identity after the young man’s departure is more of a letdown than a genuine surprise.

Second, the film takes place in New York. However, the old barber recalls that the judge who was his customer was the first African American on the local judiciary. In that flashback, the TV in the barbershop is showing “Soul Train” with a breakdancing musical number. That would place the flashback back in the early 1980s, which makes little sense since New York had African American judges long before that period.

But aside from those lapses, “A Nick in Time” is a smooth and memorable short.

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