96 Minutes is not the kind of film you would think it would be considering the ages of the cast. The cast is full of young actors, but this is not a film necessarily geared toward the younger crowd. The film deals with a carjacking of two young women by two young men. From the title of the film, the carjacking lasts beginning to end 96 minutes. The film is a non-linear story. The story begins mid-carjacking. It then shows the events that happened that day to all four people prior to the carjacking. The film goes back to the carjacking many times throughout the film.
Through the events leading up to the carjacking, we learn about each character. Without the background, the audience might assume the generalized, stereotypical background for each of them. Lena (Christian Serratos) has been in a relationship with a dead beat guy who cheats on her. She finally has had enough and moves back in with her friend at her previous apartment. Lena’s friends try to keep her out of throwing herself a pity party and are anxious for her to confront her jerk boyfriend. Carley (Brittany Snow) is an academic do-gooder who is pre-law and is about to graduate. She is unsure of her future because she has just done what her father has wanted in order to please him. Dre (Evan Ross) is in high school, making good grades, and is about to graduate. Unfortunately, he is a member of a small gang and the pressures that go along with that. Kevin (Jonathan Michael Trautmann) does not appear to be in school, has a verbally abusive mother who is being abused herself, and desperately wants to get into Dre’s gang.
The whole reason for the carjacking is Kevin’s need to be in Dre’s gang. Dre is friends with Kevin and has been discouraging Kevin from trying to join. Kevin approaches the gang leader and Kevin is asked to steal a car before he will be allowed to join. At the beginning of the film, the carjacking is midway through, and the audience does not get to see the start of the carjacking until close to the end of the film. That is where the four main characters’ stories converged. This is a novel approach as it keeps the audience in anticipation of seeing the beginning.
Another character’s story is woven into the film. Duane (David Oyelowo) runs a BBQ stand. At first, the audience may wonder why Duane is part of the film, but he becomes an important part towards the end. Duane has one run in with Dre’s gang (sans Dre or Kevin), but has no other connection to the four main characters.
The acting in 96 Minutes is superb. As mentioned before, it is a fairly young cast, but they deal with real issues and a traumatic, life-changing event. I think the worst thing that press and critics could do for this film is pigeon hole it into a teen or college movie category only. It is so far away from that genre. Evan Ross is truly gifted in his portrayal of Dre. I was enthralled with his performance. He shows emotions so subtlety on his face. Dre is conflicted with being on the straight and narrow at school and being part of the gang. It forces him to deal with things he does not want to do, and most of all interact with people who will not help him get ahead in life. Without the back story for Dre, the audience would not really care for him, but with it, they pull for him to make the right decisions. Because of Ross’ stellar performance, he won Breakthrough Performance for 96 Minutes at the 2011 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.
There is something missing from the end of the film. All four main characters’ stories are wrapped up at the end, except one. The audience never finds out what happens to Kevin. Considering he was the catalyst for the carjacking, I thought he was important enough for his story to be concluded like Carley, Lena, and Dre’s. Other than that one omission, I liked Aimee Lagos’ script and direction.
96 Minutes is just at the beginning of getting buzz promoting it, and hopefully, this will lead to a distribution deal. I am really glad I was able to see it at SXSW. The film is a thriller presented in a way that sets it apart from others. In a way, it does add to the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” 96 Minutes does this with its main characters, and hopefully the moviegoers will not judge the film based on its young cast. You will not be sorry if you take a chance on 96 Minutes.
I give 96 Minutes 4.5 “I Heart Atlanta T-shirts (where it was filmed)” out of 5.