I know what you’re thinking – another heist gone wrong movie. I know, because I was thinking the same thing when I sat down to watch 7 minutes. Lucky for us, the robbery, though action packed complete with edge of your seat moments, is not the bulk of the story. The focus of the film instead is placed on what led the three men we see wearing masks in the first few minutes of screen time to choose the path that got them there. Turns out, this is a film about bad luck, bad choices and what happens when you pin all your hopes on the American Dream, only to find out too late that the apple pie life is out of stock.
The story takes place somewhere in Washington state, which stands in nicely for anywhere small town America. A place where vintage cars are hand-me-downs, not hipster trophies and the local bar boasts PBR with neon signs. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t offer many ways out, a place of routine and no bright futures without a lucky break. Our protagonist, Sam (Luke Mitchell, giving an honest and understated performance), wants nothing more than escape from this rut for himself, his fiancé Kate (Leven Rambin) and their unborn child, but his lucky break is long gone and hard work doesn’t seem to be cutting it.
His best friend Owen (Zane Holtz) is fresh out of prison and not the best of influences. Sam’s brother, Mike (Jason Ritter, perfectly portraying a man forcing unproven confidence) is no better, offering him a shortcut to happiness selling drugs for a local dealer. Once Sam loses his machine shop job, the last bit of forward movement he had, he gives in. Bad choices are made, consequences are looming, and the trio must concoct a scheme to get the $62,000 they now owe a murderous drug dealer while they still have a chance to get out with their lives.
First time writer/director Jay Martin opens the film with the beginnings of the robbery itself before taking the viewer back in time by days, weeks and even years to show us the driving forces behind the key players. While Martin doesn’t avoid falling into a few cliche traps with the exposition (Sam was a H.S. football star planning a future with Kate, his cheerleader girlfriend, when an injury took away his dreams of college ball), most of them end up providing a sort of shorthand giving the viewer a quick, though sometimes merely surface level, grasp of the characters. Having spent some time directing music videos, where you have just a few short minutes to deliver character and story, it makes sense that Martin would be economical here. Still, the only character that is developed enough to truly garner the viewer’s empathy is Sam himself, the other characters generally acting to bring him into clearer focus while teetering on becoming background elements and mere plot points to his struggle.
When we finally catch back up to the robbery in progress, it acts as a nice bookend with the opening scene – we first saw these three men with no backstory and now we feel as if we know why they ended up here. They went from a place of ‘getting by’ to completely screwed and we bore witness to the myriad of small bad decisions that delivered them there. These are not professionals – they are fish out of water struggling for air, and that makes all the difference in building steady tension and elevating this film to something more than just a heist movie.
Martin comes from a career as a storyboard artist, and it shows in all the right places. His understanding of how to frame and light shots to convey emotion even without dialog is a skill not often seen in a debut. You can tell that years envisioning shots and breaking them down to single specific images has allowed him to wield the camera as a narrator, not merely an observer.
Sam driving across bridges becomes transformative moments, not just good location scouting. Wide shots of sparsely populated roads speak volumes on the overwhelming nature of their current predicament and the hopelessness of a life spent treading water. I am anxious to see what Martin delivers in the future as he gains better control of the larger picture and utilizes his deft understanding of visual storytelling.
From the very first scene, the viewer is drawn into the dismal plight and while the action is consistently taught and the expected violence present, the ending leaves something to be desired. It hinges on ridiculous coincidences and relays no clear final message, seemingly tacked on. To me, it needs more of a sense of closure, but perhaps the truth of the story lies in the fact that the characters have no idea where their actions have led them.
What ultimately makes this film engaging is the quiet portrayal by a solid cast of regular people caught up in irregular circumstances, of very average people yearning for something greater. They make stupid choices (wearing a simple mask and your own clothes to rob your uncle is not the brightest of moves) and bad things happen, but in the end the story comes from them and not the robbery. As Mike tells Sam: “It’s not about drugs, it’s about us. It’s family.”
7 MINUTES screens at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Winchester, Virginia on Monday June 29th at 7:00pm. Tickets can be found by CLICKING HERE.