By Mark Bell | February 6, 2008

Whenever I hear about a film doing something novel like playing out in real time (as in, each minute in the film equates to each real minute in the story; think “24”), my gut reaction is that the film must be lacking in other areas. Why else would a film resolve itself to a gimmick unless it was horrendously flawed, right? In the case of Randall Cole’s feature film “Real Time,” my gut reaction couldn’t be more wrong.

“Real Time” tells the story of down-on-his-luck compulsive gambler Andy (Jay Baruchel) and what may be the final hour of his sad, pathetic, little life. You see, his non-payment on debts isn’t sitting pretty with his debtors, and rather than try and scare money out of him, it is decided that he’d be a better example dead then a financial gain alive. So hitman Reuban (Randy Quaid) is dispatched to put Andy out of his misery, and he plans to do so, except that, out of respect for the long period of time in which the two have known each other, Reuban decides to let Andy have one final hour to live in any way he’d like.

It’s a simple premise: given one hour to live, how do you spend your final time? Now, a loser gambler and his hitman may not necessarily be the first folks you think of when you think “inspiring” or “life-affirming,” but it’s a testament to the acting ability of both Baruchel and Quaid that they not only actively hold your attention, but keep you emotionally connected. Sure, at first you’re thinking the sooner Andy is put out of his misery, the better, but as the film plays out you start to feel that sword of Damacles dropping over his head and the suspense of his final moments becomes your own. And Lord knows, if I ever find myself in a position where a hitman is sent to kill me, I really hope that hitman is as smooth as Quaid’s Reuban. Part zen master, part Rupert Murdoch with a gun (it’s the Aussie accent he employs), Reuban’s view of life is both spot-on and painfully detached. Randy Quaid has played many roles in his career, but few have been quite as impressive in exemplifying his true skills as an actor as his role in “Real Time.”

It’s not only the acting in “Real Time,” however, that keeps you involved. While on the surface the premise, again, is a simple one, I for the life of me could not predict how this film was going to end, even when there was all of five minutes left. Not that there’s a series of Shyamalan-like twists, hardly, but the story just keeps you guessing until the final moments. On top of that, you walk away pondering everything from how you live your life to your own definitions of good or bad luck,

“Real Time” succeeds on numerous levels, most impressively as a display of brilliant acting, but overall as a solid film showcasing a slice of life that we may not all be a part of, but that we can all relate to. I don’t know how I would spend the final hour of my life, and I hope I don’t have to figure that out anytime soon, but I respect and appreciate any film that makes me think long after its running time, real or no, is over.

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