Movie Review: The Time Being
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: July 23, 2013
Directed by: Nenad Cicin-Sain
Stars: 4 out of 5
Daniel (Wes Bentley) is a painter with lots of talent who should probably be on top of the art world, selling tons of paintings. Instead, he is a struggling artist with an abysmal home life with wife Olivia (Ahna O'Reilly), who is tired of being ignored by her absentee husband. Daniel doesn't seem too interested in Olivia's desperation until one day she decides to take their adorable son Marco (Aiden Lovekamp) and leave Daniel, who finally pays attention to her after it is too late.
Daniel doesn't have time to mope over his broken family because he has a collection to show at a new art gallery where he hopes to sell enough paintings to make some kind of dent in his mountain of debt. As fate would have it, Daniel meets wealthy loner Dax (Frank Langella) at the gallery and is very appreciative when Dax buys a painting from him. The sale is only final if Daniel agrees to deliver the painting in person to Dax's home out in the desert, which is quite a drive from Los Angeles. Daniel agrees anyways because he is desperate to make the sale.
Dax invites Daniel into his home and shows him around while offering him some paid work. It turns out that the old man is dying, and he would like Daniel, with his eye for visuals, to make a few video recordings for him. He is willing to pay well for the videos, so Daniel says yes and the next day finds himself taping a sunset. The video assignments get increasingly more complicated until Daniel realizes that several of the videos have a mysterious woman named Sarah (Sarah Paulson) in them. Daniel realizes that the old man is hiding something from him and demands to know whether Dax is using him to stalk the woman. The truth is actually much more complicated than that, and it threatens to open up a torrent of feelings that the emotionally repressed Daniel might not be ready for.
Director Nenad Cicin-Sain had previously worked in music videos and advertising visuals before making "The Time Being," which marks his feature film debut. Some of the principles of advertising photography are seen here, with visually stunning scenes that help set the mood of the film. There is one scene in particular where Dax has invited Daniel to his desert home, and they sit on rockers across from each other in front of a very large window. The sun setting outside the window casts an eerie glow on the two men as they exchange stories and compare emotional scars. Cicin-Sain is careful to make sure the camera stays at a distance for several seconds, so the audience is sure to see this image before panning in for closer shots. There are several of these slow-building shots in the film, each one resembling a memorable ad you might see in a magazine.
Part of the reason Cicin-Sain is able to create such beautiful shots within the film is because of cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., who won tons of accolades for his work on "The Master." Malaimare seems to have a real instinct for framing shots to look like eye candy, even if they are simple shots that usually don't have an artistic quality. The scenes inside Dax's sprawling home have shades of blue and gray, but even the outside shots when Daniel is obediently filming sunsets seem to be tinged with a patina that keeps the heavy mood going. Add in the haunting string music of composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, who won an Academy Award for his score to "Finding Neverland," and the dark mood for "The Time Being" is more than set. There are shadows hiding shadows, which seem to be a metaphor for how much the two men are hiding, even as they confide in each other about their lives, and all the problems that they have.
The fact that the two men can become confidants despite the huge age difference is what is at the heart of the film. Dax is in his twilight years, a dying man who is desperate to make some amends and impart wisdom to Daniel before he draws his final breath. Daniel, on the other hand, has his whole life ahead of him if he could just stop derailing it with his emotional absence from his family. These two damaged souls, at very different points in life, still stand at the same crossroads. Seeing which path they each choose to take is the most engrossing part of "The Time Being" (watch trailer here).