Movies at the Mudd: “Time Out

Corey Lehnert

Something about the cover of the film “Time Out” told me it was a horror story. There’s a slightly portly, balding businessman dressed in a suit on the front with a look on his face that seems to say, “This wasn’t what it was supposed to be like at all.” He’s middle-aged, he’s moderately acquainted with erectile dysfunction, and he sorely regrets not becoming a humanities major who would have the good fortune to spend most of his 20s in a romantic squalor until he married his cardiologist girlfriend and had it made.
This fellow is Vincent, and from the start of “Time Out,” the 2002 film by Laurent Cantet, we know that he’s ventured into territory he never planned for, but we can’t quite put our finger on what it is. Vincent, despite his constant traveling, meetings with clients, and smooth financial rhetoric, is clearly something more than an ordinary businessman peddling an ordinary ware.
Fired from his investment banking job several months ago, Vincent turns to marketing faulty investment opportunities to old friends in an effort to hide his unemployment from his family. His work shows so much confidence that at times it seems that even he has trouble recognizing that it’s all just a ruse.
As the audience and Vincent discover, however, a con needs more than just confidence to work, and Vincent soon finds himself having to decide between his family or his job, forced to confront the demons and society that forced him into this bind in the first place.
The result of all this is an exceptional thriller about a disrupted white-collar life that brings into question everyday notions of family, masculine identity and societal duty, and does so with such subtlety that you’ll feel as if it snuck up behind you.
What’s most impressive about “Time Out” is its operation on a petty, everyday level that reveals the gravity and depth of ordinary life that films with larger aspirations, and larger budgets, are unable to achieve. Vincent is an ordinary guy who manages to get himself into an ordinary problem, albeit one with weighty consequences. Unlike most ordinary problems, however, it’s hard to say whether his decisions are right or wrong.
The film’s appeal, then, comes not from the acrobatics and close calls that are the cornerstone of the Jerry Bruckheimer school of filmmaking, but with Cantet’s engaging yet understated presentation of the moral dilemmas Vincent faces as he struggles with a changing society’s views on his role as a father and a husband. Is it more of a dishonor to be unable to provide for one’s family, or to work in dubious ways in order to do so? Whichever path he chooses, it is clear that Vincent passed the easy way out a long time ago.
Cantet’s film works throughout with a subtlety and quietude that manages to conceal the roiling conflict inside Vincent until the very end. When this conflict finally reveals itself, the agony with which Vincent struggles is both devastating and cathartic; a powerful climax to a film that has heretofore taken great pains to keep its modesty.
The subtlety which Cantet uses so well to tie most of the film together, however, fares poorly in the beginning, adding unnecessary fatigue to opening scenes already made tired by Vincent’s calm, mundane presence. Granted, the revelation of Vincent’s true motives in the conclusion brings new excitement to the opening, but this is too late for the audience member who doesn’t plan a second viewing.