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Washington excels in dynamic role

Rama Gottumukkala, Assistant Scene Editor | Tuesday, October 7, 2003

How does an actor follow up a scene-stealing, Academy Award-winning performance and a poignant directorial debut? How about by proving to be worth every penny of the $20 million paycheck he now commands? Denzel Washington turns in a dynamic performance in his latest film, Out of Time, once again establishing himself as one of the finest dramatic actors in Tinseltown.

In the film, Matt Lee Whitlock (Washington) is the chief of police in Banyan Key, a small coastal town in Florida. He’s respected by his peers and loved by his community, but he has his own secretive problems to wrestle with.

After facing a messy separation from Alex, his estranged wife who is a homicide detective (played by Eva Mendes), he faces another blow when Ann Merai, his high school sweetheart and the person he’s currently having an adulterous affair with (played by Sanaa Lathan), finds out she has terminal cancer and her only chance at survival involves a pricey experimental treatment in Europe. Conveniently, Whitlock has just made a huge local drug bust, confiscating over $400,000 – more than enough money to pay for the treatment.

But the night after giving Ann the confiscated money, Whitlock is notified of a double homicide at his lover’s house – an arson that apparently took the lives of both Ann and her cocky, abusive husband, Chris Harrison (played by Dean Cain). Unfortunately, a few days before the double homicide, Ann changes the sole beneficiary of her million-dollar will from her husband to Whitlock.

Boom! An obvious motive for murder, and as the investigation intensifies, Whitlock finds out the evidence actually points to him as the murderer. Hounded by the DEA, who are looking for the evidence money that he “borrowed,” as well as his estranged wife, Whitlock has to stay a few steps ahead of his own police force and everyone he’s trusted in order to find out the truth.

Considering that Washington is on screen for at least 80 percent of the film, the entire shebang lives and dies by his performance. However, Mali Finn, the film’s casting director, struck gold by picking the perfect actor for the job and Washington wisely chose to take a role that caters to his strengths – a flawed but honorable everyman who is caught between a rock and a hard place. Washington relishes in the role and conjures up the smoldering intensity that has always been his forte.

Finn, who was responsible for the casting in beloved films such as The Green Mile and Titanic as well as tripe such as Batman and Robin, succeeds in surrounding Washington with an excellent supporting cast. Much of the film consists of Washington romancing Lathan, running from Mendes, or antagonizing Cain in solitary scenarios, and each of these scenes boasts undeniable chemistry between Washington and each of his cast mates.

For example, there is a scene in which Cain, a former professional quarterback and sleazy, abusive husband, confronts Washington about the obvious affair taking place between Cain’s wife, Lathan, and Washington. Cain says that he would almost admire a man who had the cajones to stand up and say to his face, “I’m banging your wife.”

To this, Washington simply agrees and departs with the choice comment, “give Ann my best. If you can.” The animosity between Washington and Cain is palpable and reinforced by witty dialogue.

In many ways, Out of Time is a throwback to the great classic crime dramas of the latter half of the 20th century- characterized by complex characters and a gradually heightening sense of suspense as the film races towards its conclusion. Washington’s performance mirrors that of a man on the edge, cornered and willing to do almost anything to gain control of a situation that has long since been taken out of his control.

If the film was only supported by its stylish directing style, a respectable cast of secondary characters, and a decent actor as the lead, the film would probably have been a competent thriller. But Washington’s volatile performance hikes the film into a non-stop roller-coaster ride of suspense that will keep you guessing until the very end.

Contact Rama Gottumukkala at [email protected]