“Violent crimes and robberies take place in such a short amount of time – like 7 minutes. And so I said, ‘What if we took a violent crime like a robbery and broke it down into the various elements, and in between those minutes filled in the backstory?’”
That’s a quote from Shuffle’s interview with “7 Minutes” writer/director Jay Martin about his crime drama that premiered at the Austin Film Festival on Oct. 26.
“7 Minutes” is Martin’s first feature film, but it is the opposite of amateurish. It is visually stylish, smart and thoroughly engaging throughout – making it a strong and distinctive debut for the first-time director – and I expect even bigger and better things from Martin in the hopefully-not-too-distant future.
Spoiler warning: Plot points ahead!
“7 Minutes” is the story of three friends who get themselves into an inescapable situation. When former star high school quarterback Sam (Luke Mitchell) gets laid off from his factory job, he quickly starts to run out of options to provide for his pregnant girlfriend, Kate (Leven Rambin).
With the help of his brother, Mike (Jason Ritter), and his recently-released-from-prison best friend, Owen (Zane Holtz), he decides to take a job from a drug dealer. The three end up panicking and flushing the drugs – and owing a very dangerous man a lot of money – so they decide they have no other option but to rob a bank.
What stuck out to me most about the film was its non-linear narrative structure. Rather than tell the story in order, the film starts at the scene of the robbery, and the viewer is then presented with a mix of present-day scenes and flashbacks so that they have to slowly piece the full story together themselves – and thus, the characters’ motivations for committing the crime.
This non-linear storytelling was extremely effective because it added a layer of mystery and made me more empathetic and emotionally invested in the characters. I first saw Sam, Mike and Owen holding innocent people at gunpoint, then saw flashbacks of them struggling to make ends meet and getting themselves into their present inescapable situation. That’s not to say that their actions were justified, but it definitely does make you wonder what you would do if you were in their shoes.
After watching the film, it came as no surprise that Martin cites Scorsese and Tarantino as his major filmmaker influences. There’s an (over)abundance of Scorsese-esque slow-motion shots, and the characters’ names are introduced with stark, onscreen block-letter graphics. The resident “badass,” Tuckey (Kevin Gage), sports an over-the-top fringe jacket that looks like he stole it straight from a Tarantino set. But overall, Martin’s influences effectively combine with his own directorial style to create a stylish and believable “7 Minutes” world.
Zane Holtz said something in his interview with Shuffle that I think sums the film up quite nicely: “7 Minutes” is not so much a whodunnit as it is a “whydunnit.” It is stylish, intelligent and entertaining – all things that add up to make “7 Minutes” into more than just your everyday crime drama.