2021 Sundance Review: Prime Time

Director(s): Jakub Piatek

Writer(s): Lukasz Czapski, Jakub Piatek

Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Magdalena Poplawska, Malgorzata Hajewska

Synopsis: In 1999 Sebastian locks himself in a TV studio. He has two hostages, a gun, and an important message for the world.

In Jakub Piatek’s feature writing/directing debut, he swings for the fences with a film that should have been so much better. Piatek gets us into the action quickly, but the second act and on the film just feels stagnant. We are simply stuck in this situation with everyone and even though there are flashes that this film is going to take a turn, we never dive completely into what is happening.

I attest a lot of my issues to the film being too… tame frankly. This could have been a Safdie Brothers dream of a film, but instead, I think we got a watered-down version of this story, which I understand is fiction. Its potential was shown a magnitude amount of times, however, but these moments came and left so quickly that it created an imbalance in the film. I think this film would have worked much better if it was a pure thriller rather than a drama.

Because when the end of the film came I was left dissatisfied. There was an emptiness I felt from the film because I truly saw the potential. I am all for slow and melodic dramas, but this is a case where it just should not have been that. This film should have been loud, in your face, over the top, and whatever other anxiety-inducing forms you can think of, but instead of really getting into the film and the characters, I was left quite bored. Constantly waiting and wanting for some excitement or thrills, at times I felt like I was SCREAMING for it. Piatek got SO CLOSE at points, incorporating many tactics I was wanting to see, but for some reason, they just stopped every time. Moments of shaky cam, live footage, clusters, chaos, etc. should have been the focal point of the story. By the time the end of the film came, I had no clue where we were in terms of the story. I could pull a certain message from the film, but I couldn’t pull any sort of message from Sebastian himself. Plot-holes and other instances forced me to question what exactly was happening.

With all this being said… my gosh what a performance from Bartosz Bielenia. He was the one part of the film that I kept coming back to, as he was the only part that didn’t miss a single beat. For how tame the film was, this movie would be an absolute travesty if it wasn’t for his performance as Sebastian. He, quite literally, demands the screen and the attention it brings. I am still confused as to what his motives were, but he fully believed in them. Truly, I don’t think he had motives. I don’t think he even knew what he was doing. To me, he just wanted his 15 minutes of fame and then wanted to move on with his life. Maybe that is what the end is trying to tell us, maybe not, but if you only come away with one positive from this film, it will be Bartosz Bielenia.

I did happen to find many aspects of the film, and maybe I will come to like it more if I ever give this a rewatch. However, and I hate giving a film expectations going into it, but this movie just never once met my expectations. I was looking for a heart-racing, anxiety pumping, thriller, and, again, was left disappointed and wanting more. That isn’t to say there aren’t compelling moments throughout the film, there are, but it is too and far in between to really matter. This film has its issues story-wise, for sure, but I think had they gone the more thrilling route, a lot of the issues could have been covered up. But alas, this is the movie we got. I just hope Jakub Piatek really goes for it with his next one.

Final: Prime Time has enormous potential, especially in Bartosz Bielenia’s absolutely brilliant performance, but the film is too tame to become the thriller it wanted to be. I didn’t hate this film and found many aspects of it compelling, but overall I’m just disappointed.

My Score: C

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Tomek Kaczor

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