Noir and Long Takes? Sign me up!
Depending on the mood I’m in, it can take a lot to get me to watch a film if I don’t know much about it. I have other moments, though, when as long as there is a movie playing, I don’t need to know anything. And there are other times when just a few key words need to be said and I am planted on the couch or in the theatre seat with a popcorn and a drink. Two of those words happen to be ‘noir’ and ‘long takes’. Okay, long takes is two words, the point is, before hearing of Dennis Hauck‘s Too Late, I had never imagined I would have heard those two magic words together – but now I have.
Why do I like noir? I don’t know, because IT’S COOL? Can it be that easy? The characters are always heavily flawed, just like all the rest of us, there is always a deep, dark secret that we don’t discover until the end that reveals even more flaws about at least one of the characters, and IT’S COOL. Hauck’s has the genre down too. There is the smooth-talking, private eye protagonist full of vice, and devoted to a cause that we, as normal people cannot understand (at least at first), the innocent stripper with a heart of gold in distress, and exposure to the depths of the murky, crime-ridden underbelly of Los Angeles where lives are ended on the whims of crime bosses and strip club owners. When you combine these classic story elements with extremely well-choreographed blocking and camerawork, you’ve got yourself a pretty damn immersive film.
The first thing that stands out about Too Late, at least once you’re done with the first scene, is that its scenes do not appear in chronological order. I know, I know, you’ve seen Pulp Fiction and its copycats, but this film actually makes it work. For me, it was the strong bonds between the characters that were evident no matter what order the scenes were in, that intrigued me enough that even when one of them was dead at the end of one scene, it didn’t ruin the next scene in which they were alive and kicking, because I was eager to know what the motivations behind their actions had been. And, like in Tarantino’s classic, the reordering of the scenes forces the viewer to watch actively and put the pieces together themselves, involving them in a similar kind of quest for the truth that Samson (played meticulously by John Hawkes), has embarked upon. It is due to the reordering of the scenes, however, that we realize just how much Samson knows that we do not , but I won’t play the role of spoiler here, let’s just say the film’s dramatic effect would not be nearly as effective were it to play out in real time.
The second, and for me the most memorable, of what makes this film so damn cool is the use of the long take, or the “oner”. You may recall films like Children of Men, Gravity, or Birdman, each of which use the long take wonderfully to heighten the viewing experience of the audience by setting a particular pace. While these films either use the long take for a scene here and there, or give the illusion of a long take, hiding cuts along the way, Hauck’s film is simply comprised of five long takes. The amount of planning and blocking that goes into such an endeavour is admirable to say the least. When it results in the end product we are left with with Too Late, it’s pretty damn amazing. Whether the focus of the shot is changing from one character to another, characters are weaving through tight hallways, going in and out of buildings, or entering a scene ten minutes in, the one-take technique is extremely engaging, not just for someone who drools over them, but for anyone (I would imagine). Many times while watching this film, I felt as if I was walking with Samson through the dark and decrepit shadows as he remained the focus of the shot for minutes on end. Cinematographer Bill Fernandez deserves all the credit in the world for being able to light scenes in which the camera covers as much ground as it does in this film, as does his camera crew.
If someone had to take a shot at this film (there’s always someone) the only case they would have lies in the performances. One can imagine, when a twenty minute take is eighteen minutes through, that when a character utters a line using body language or a tone of voice that doesn’t exactly match, that it wasn’t worth calling “Cut!” Other than the odd instance of this, the performances are excellent, not just because of the focus and memory involved with such a film, but because each performer understand her or his role, the depths of their character, and allows the audience to access them. Hawkes deserves the most credit of all as he appears at length in every scene, exhibiting grit, remorse, and a healthy dose of bad-ass private detectiveness, that the film needs.
When I first read about this film in American Cinematographer I thought to myself, “hmm, what a cool idea.” Having seen it now, I can tell you that there is a lot more to Dennis Hauck’s Too Late than a cool idea. It is just what one bored of the same old film will need. And best of all, at least here in Canada, it’s on Netflix.
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