SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – Prime Time is a Polish film that is making its world premiere as part of the Sundance Film Festival’s 2021 World Cinema Dramatic Competition lineup. Directed and co-written by Jakub Piątek, who previously dabbled in directing documentary shorts, Prime Time is Piątek’s feature film directorial debut and a sign of great things to come from a burgeoning filmmaker.
Far from being a feel-good New Year movie, Prime Time is set in Warsaw on the eve of the 2000 millennium. As a TV station prepares to air their holiday program the broadcast is interrupted when a lone gunman named Sebastian (Bartosz Bielenia) enters the studio in order to speak on live TV. Since the feed is cut to protect viewers, Sebastian takes the TV show host Mira (Magdalena Poplawska) and a security guard hostage to compel police to meet his demands. Though multiple negotiators attempt to connect with him, Sebastian remains determined to go live on television at all costs.
Prime Time was mostly mellow and on the quiet side, in my opinion, side-stepping use of a noticeable musical score to help inject some intensity to the story. However, a thrill did rush through me every now and then when the anticipation was built in such a way where it felt like the precarious powder-keg situation was finally going to ignite. Though the film never quite ignited for me, Prime Time was still an enjoyable and solid movie as far as quality and direction, and it also had dedicated acting performances, particularly from stars Bartosz Bielenia and Magdalena Popławska who played their contradictory characters–Bielenia a fragile gunman and Popławska the headstrong hostage–off of each other in perfect sync.
To me, I felt that Prime Time focused too much on building up a backstory for the anti-hero for the movie for it to play out without any firmly established motivation behind his characters’ actions. I suppose this omission could be on purpose, to leave this aspect of the plot up to the audience to fill in with their own possible reasons for taking people hostage. Throughout the film, breadcrumbs about the antihero’s personal life are sprinkled throughout the negotiations, however, they are not motivations and do not seem like threads that would necessarily lead to the path that this character had chosen. In the end, for me, foregoing an affirmed purpose for this hostage situation made the end feel anti-climatic.
I perhaps was expecting something like Money Monster (2016) or some other American style hostage situation thriller, but Prime Time is far from that style, devoid of action or artificial intensity from music or fighting. Instead, Prime Time takes a more laid back approach to building anticipation, and overall, with its thrills being tempered by melodrama the film lands somewhere around suspenseful character study.
7 out of 10