Sunday, 26 June 2011

Nick of Time

I was tempted to head this blog post "Suspension of Disbelief", because watching the 1995 movie Nick of Time made me reflect on how writers strike a balance between crafting an exciting story and making sure that it remains plausible throughout.

The film stars Johnny Depp, who is cast rather improbably as a mild-mannered and bespectacled accountant, recently widowed and with a small child. He spotted at a railway station by a sinister man and woman, who promptly kidnap both him and his daughter. They threatened to kill the little girl unless he assassinates a particular woman in a nearby hotel within the next hour or so. The intended victim is the state governor, as Johnny soon discovers to his horror. But every attempt he makes to get help is thwarted by the male kidnapper, who is played by Christopher Walken in slightly over the top menacing mode.

I enjoyed the movie, which is fast-paced and at times exciting, but the premise struck me as wildly improbable. It emerges that the governor is being targeted by a powerful group of conspirators and why they choose an assassin at the last minute was beyond me.

Thrillers and detective stories almost inevitably proceed on the basis that fiction is strange in fact, and I suspect that almost all crime writers struggle at times to make their stories seem believable. Speaking as a reader, as well as as a writer, I think it is reasonable for a crime story to have some unlikely elements but it is important to try to make sure that the drama does not topple over into absurdity. As so often in life, it is all about trying to strike a sensible balance. I'm not quite sure that Nick of Time gets the balance right, and as a result, a movie that might have been excellent is only okay. Even so, it makes for agreeable if undemanding entertainment.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, how right you are. There is always such a balance, isn't there, between keeping the reader's attention and being realistic. It's interesting, too. I'm more likely to forgive too much suspension of disbelief in a movie than I am in a novel.

Deb said...

Coincidently, I just saw a promo for a TV movie (or possibly a mini-series) on the Lifetime Network (which aims its programming at women and features a lot of "females in peril" shows) about a woman whose daughter is kidnapped and she must kill someone before she gets her daughter back.

I think I'd have less trouble suspending my disbelief for this premise because, sadly, there was a somewhat similar actual case here in the States just a few years ago: A pizza delivery man was kidnapped, strapped to an explosive device, and forced to rob a bank. The explosive detonated before the police bomb squad could deactivate it. I understand that premise is now being used for the plot of a comedy movie. Yikes!

Holly Vance said...

For my serial killer novel, I did a lot of research with Las Vegas homicide because I was obsessive with coming across as authentic in the novel. Of course, all of those detail that I infused into the plot had to been taken out because they took the reader out of the story (according to my writer's group). It's hard to be both creative, believable, authentic, and entertaining. I guess that's what distinguished writer's from story-tellers.

Richmonde said...

@holly Your writers' group could have been wrong!

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting comments, thank you all. Margot, I agree with your point about the difference between film and the printed word.
Deb - yikes is right!