'7 Minutes': Austin Review

7 Minutes Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Whitewater Films

7 Minutes Still - H 2014

Strong visual style and engrossing narrative twists

Jay Martin's feature debut depicts an ill-fated robbery by three desperate friends

Veteran music video director Jay Martin makes a highly impressive feature debut with his engrossing crime drama about a trio of desperate young men committing an ill-fated robbery. Featuring intricate, non-linear storytelling and an uncommon emotional pungency, 7 Minutes is a taut, tightly controlled exercise that should spell bigger and better things for its tyro director/screenwriter. The film recently received its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival.

Filmed in the evocatively desolate town of Everett, Washington, it depicts a bank robbery intended to be committed over the course of a mere seven minutes by Sam (Luke Mitchell), his brother Mike (Jason Ritter) and their friend Owen (Zane Holtz). The imaginative conceit is to depict the heist in real time, with repeated High Noon-style shots of clocks ticking away the minutes as a series of flashbacks depict the intense build-up to the event.

The device works strikingly well, ratcheting up the tension while providing incisive portrayals of both the major and minor characters. We learn that Sam, a former high school football star with a beautiful cheerleader girlfriend, Kate (Leven Rambin), suffered a debilitating injury which ended his career prospects. Having been laid off from his factory job even as Kate has gotten pregnant, he's now making ends meet as a low-level pot dealer. Mike, who has a wife and small child, is equally financially bereft, even while taking full advantage of his irresistibility to women, including the slutty Brandi (Mariel Neto). And Owen, who's recently been released from prison after getting caught shoplifting at the local mall, is the son of "Mr. B" (Kris Kristofferson), a career criminal whose fatherly advice boils down to "Don't get caught."

Read More Austin Film Fest: Writer-Centric Event to Screen Numerous Oscar Hopefuls

Other characters figuring prominently in the proceedings are sad-sack cop Jerome (Brandon Hardesty), who has a hopeless crush on Brandi as well as a strong sense of responsibility to his job; and Tuckey (a truly fearsome Kevin Gage), Mr. B's cohort who gets wind of the robbery plans and decides to horn in on the action.

While the filmmaker has clearly worshipped at the altar of Tarantino and engages in slightly too much visual gimmickry such as slo-mo and onscreen graphics identifying the characters, he displays a strong visual flair--director of photography Noah M. Rosenthal beautifully captures the desolate small-town settings—and talent for hard-boiled dialogue and arresting narrative twists. Despite the back-and-forth chronology of the storytelling, the tension never lets up throughout the tightly paced proceedings.

He's also elicited fine performances from the ensemble, with Mitchell providing impressive emotional depths as the desperate anti-hero whose criminality is caused by desperate circumstance and veteran actor Joel Murray (God Bless America) making a strong impression as the bank manager who has skeletons in his closet.

Read More Austin Film Festival to Honor 'Mad Men,' "True Detective' and 'Masters of "Sex' Emmy Hopefuls

At times the plotting gets too convoluted for its own good, and the ending strains credulity. But despite its occasional missteps, 7 Minutes is gripping from start to finish.

Production: Whitewater Films
Cast: Luke Mitchell, Zane Holtz, Jason Ritter, Brandon Hardesty, Kevin Gage, Leven Rambin, Joel Murray, Kris Kristofferson
Director/screenwriter: Jay Martin
Producers: Jacob Aaron Estes, Jacob Mosler, Rick Rosenthal
Executive producers: Jim Hart, Nick Morton
Director of photography: Noah M. Rosenthal
Production designer: Ben Blankenship
Editor: Kayla M. Emter
Costume designer: Ashley Russell
Composer: tomandandy
Casting: Eyde Belasco

No rating, 92 min.