|Review by Dean Galanis|
This first feature from writer/director Jay Martin is a surprisingly tight, entertaining heist film. Martin stumbles here and there – particularly towards the end – but he does a mostly commendable job with a well-worn subgenre.
Three small-town friends from high school, Sam (Luke Mitchell), his brother Mike (Jason Ritter) and Owen (Zane Holtz) have each fallen on hard times in their twenties, especially Sam, who’s just been laid off from his factory job, with only his pregnant wife’s (Leven Rambin) diner waitress tips getting them by. Sam and Mike start selling pot together, but when Owen is released from prison, they all decide they should go for a bigger score.
They approach a dangerous, shifty local drug lord, but when things very quickly go seriously awry, they are then forced into a desperate plan: rob the local bank.
They reason that since police response to a call takes around 8-10 minutes, they need to be in and out in 7 minutes.
As is the case with the vast majority of heist films, things don’t go so smoothly.
The film begins with the friends’ arrival at the bank, guns drawn. Then Martin freezes the frame, and we flash back to three years prior. The rest of the film takes this fractured chronology, and it’s an effective method to keep revealing secrets and character motivations before the heist is fully carried out.
Certainly this sort of structure has been used before – most obviously, and effectively, in Reservoir Dogs – but it stills works well here. It helps that in nearly every other aspect of the film, Martin does NOT ape Reservoir Dogs. These aren’t hip, seasoned criminals willing to mow down anyone in their way. They’re desperate, small-town kids not only looking to save their hides, but also looking for a way out of their dead-end town.
Speaking of which, Martin and his actors and production team do a very nice job evoking a palpable, American small-town feel. Filmed in Washington State, 7 Minutes could take place in any of a thousand dying U.S. towns.
Adding to that feel are the very believable characters of the lonely local cop and the sad town “slut”, well-played respectively by Brandon Hardesty and Mariel Neto. All involved deserve kudos for some rich, short-hand character development, as well as using these characters creatively in the narrative.
Mention must be made of the best performance in the film, Kevin Gage as Tuckey. Despite his character’s seemingly cute name, Gage has never been more menacing on screen, and that’s saying something. Yet another terrific turn in an excellent career, one that reveals character with brevity.
Really, not a minute is wasted in this film (and at 78 mins without end credits, not a minute can afford to be). But that brings up some of the stumbles. With the short length and a few miscalculations (subjectively speaking, of course) toward the end, 7 Minutes wound up feeling just a tad unsatisfying to me. It didn’t feel rushed or choppy, just….slight.
And because the ending feels like the movie just ends, the movie has no resonance whatsoever. Having said that, 7 Minutes has a great deal of merit, and while a minor film, it’s still an involving and suspenseful entry in the crime genre. I’m looking forward to Martin’s next film.