Time to Kill

By Justin Rettke | Comedy
What does a hitman do while he waits for his mark to get home?

A lone hitman, Harris, sits in the apartment of his latest target, gun in hand, and waits for his mark to arrive.

But his victim doesn’t arrive at the expected time, leaving Harris to his own devices to contemplate his life, take calls from his mom, ponders his latest insights from therapy, mull a change in career direction… and leading him to wonder just what kind of life he’s living, and if it’s really much of a life to begin with.

Actor-writer Christopher Wood and director Justin Rettke have crafted an existential crime comedy that takes an iconic moment from many film noir and crime dramas and brings it down to the level of everyday modern life, complete with pressures to get married, issues with work-life balance and a general sense of “Is this all there is?”

Most every filmgoer knows that image of a hitman shrouded in shadows, lurking in the darkness as he waits for his latest target. Visually, the film honors this cinematic heritage, playing with shadows and a distinctly Los Angeles take on noir in the framing.

But vivid colors and subtle touches of humor in the set design indicate this isn’t a typical hard-boiled crime drama, as does the smart, witty writing and characterization of Harris as just another man doing his job while navigating other pressures in life, including a mom who wants him to settle down and a nagging sense that he’s not achieving his full potential.

Wood plays Harris with both the potential remove and menace that is expected from a hitman, but also with the relatable insecurity and irritation that comes from juggling multiple pressures and imperatives in modern culture. The film’s scope is limited to one room and — for much of the runtime — one character, a difficult setup to make emotionally and visually dynamic. But the camerawork carved out a lot of dynamism within that space, and the script burrows deep within Harris’s character. As a result, Wood’s performance ably delineates many specific, precise beats and textures within this fairly narrow milieu, creating a funny, fascinating and very relatable portrait of someone dissatisfied with their path in life and contemplating his next move.

Of course, Harris still has a job to do, and eventually the film raises the question of just how his night of self-reflection will affect how he does it. The denouement is almost off-hand, but the crime in the end isn’t the point of this clever and ultimately thoughtful comedy. Because sometimes nothing is harder than being forced to slow down long enough to contemplate our lives — and it’s amazing just how much we are willing to distract ourselves to avoid sitting in discomfort with the limitations of our life choices.

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