Starring: Leslie Odom Jr, Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom, Frieda Pinto, and Jadyn Wong.
Directed By: John Ridley
Where I Watched It: Amazon
English Audio Description Available?: No.
The plot: A man (Odom Jr) seems perfectly happy with his life, especially the love he has with his partner (Erivo). But, in this world, time travel exists, and you can go back in time and alter your past to change your future. However, others can do this as well. And the smallest changes can have the biggest consequences.
What Works: John Ridley adapts what really is a terrific concept off a short story, and allows many of his scenes and moments to just sit. Just allow the actors to treat this science fiction like real life, and approach it as much as possible from a dramatic perspective.
There is something about the simplicity, how the drama sits in some of the smallest changes, like whether a character has a cat or a dog for a pet. Some of those “butterfly flaps its wings” moments work really well. And, John Ridley did assemble a strong cast.
I think I’m caught up in the concept of the film, just the elevator pitch, and I’m so in love with how the seed is planted, that I’m overlooking a lot with regards to what actually happens. Not that I needed a science fiction epic, but at times, it, well…
What Doesn’t Work: Make sense? There are things and concepts introduced in the film that Ridley does nothing with, and his futility ruins the film. For instance, there’s a fleeting mention of “time crimes”, like there’s a way to report a time crime done to you, but the actual way you would do that is never explained.
And based on all the choices the film lays out to make this film seem like a sci-fi epic, it would seem nearly impossible to ever prosecute a time crime. Who is monitoring? If memories can’t be reliably stored, how would anyone ever know to report a time crime? If this entire plot point can’t be explained, why is it ever introduced?
While Needle In A Time Stack does nice intimate dramatic work, and asks some really important questions about catalysts for events, and how sometimes just one small decision can change your entire life, but it fails in every time it tries to explain the science behind the film.
There’s a time crime unit. A court system? police force? Branch of government? There are these ripple effects, and sometimes people can remember a foggy version of a memory that someone else can’t. This is brought up when one character remembers having a dog instead of a cat, but the person he’s a foot away from, who would have been impacted at the exact same time has no idea what he’s talking about. Why one person can retain memory for a few minutes and others can’t is never explained.
There’s a solid team assembled here, and they mostly showed up. The original concept of this project should have.
The Blind Perspective: I think I mostly followed it, though I’m sure I missed something, and the moments where nothing is happening, no audio description or dialogue, make it harder for me to piece the film together. I followed it, but I can understand if you hard pass.
Final Thoughts: A fantastic elevator pitch or logline, that either works in a much larger and expanded universe, and we need to understand the film in a way probably better suited to a series format.
Final Grade: C