Dir: Greg Marcks. US. 2003. 95 mins

The random acts of desperate individuals propel the frantic, fashionably dark-hued ensemble 11:14. The first feature from writer-director Greg Marcks is distinguished by the intricacy of its plotting and a fondness for bad taste humour. A calling card for Marcks abilities, it lacks the originality or eccentricity to distinguish it from what is starting to seem like an endless succession of Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros-inspired multi-story dramas that juggle with time, structure and characters. Audiences for American independent cinema may already have wearied of such fare and the over abundance of plot in this particular example will tax their patience. Theatrical returns will be slim at best although the surprisingly stellar cast should attract more interest in ancillary markets.

Starting from a single incident involving drunk driver Jack (Thomas) and a dead body, the film constantly doubles back on itself to enhance our understanding of what we have seen and expand the cast of characters touched by events in the short time leading up to 11.14pm. The principal figures implicated in the story include anxious father Frank (Swayze) who tries to conceal what he assumes is a murder, shop assistant Buzzy (Swank) who colludes in a botched robbery and manipulative wild child Cheri (Cook) whose unrelentingly devious nature is the catalyst behind an evening of death, betrayal, dire consequences and bleak irony.

The daisy chain of unexpected connections, hidden motives and alternative perspectives eventually reveals the bigger picture of what happened on the fateful night in question and paints a fairly pessimistic picture of human nature. In Marcks' world the best and worst of intentions both inevitably lead to suffering and shame. Every action brings a reaction and none of them are benign.

Although clever in the way it peels away layer after layer to reach the whole truth about a single moment in time, 11:14 never builds a great emotional attachment to the characters or what they are experiencing. There is such a haste to maintain the pace of narrative momentum that little time is assigned to the subtleties of character or the complexity of the relationships. The multiple story strands feel like a succession of mini-movies rather than a compelling whole and a good deal of the talented cast, especially a criminally underused Barbara Hershey, are given precious little to do which adds to the sense of wasted opportunities.

On evidence of 11:14, Marcks shows more accomplishment and flair as a writer than he does as a director. He can structure an elaborate story and has a penchant for shock tactics comedy that manifests itself in a severed penis and a faceless corpse that is subject to endless indignities in a very short span of time. What Marcks hasn't yet mastered is a way to make it look seamless or a manner of presentation so dazzling and assured that we are distracted from the sheer effort of it all.

Prod co: Firm Films
Intl sales:
MDP Worldwide
Beau Flynn, John Morrissey
Exec prods:
Mark Damon, Sammy Lee, Stewart Hall, Raju Patel, Tripp Vinson, Hilary Swank, Jeff Kwatinetz, David Scott Rubin
Shane Hurlbut
Prod des:
Devorah Herbert
Dan Lebental, Richard Nord
Clint Mansell
Main cast:
Rachael Leigh Cook, Barbara Hershey, Patrick Swayze, Hilary Swank, Shawn Hatosy, Henry Thomas, Colin Hanks