Film: Tempo di uccidere (Time to Kill)
Demeanor: I sincerely have no idea how to describe this succinctly.
Hair Quality: Angry.
Performance Quality: Three Cages Out of Ten.
When researching this feature, I initially came across the title Tempo di uccidere and dismissed it, simply assuming that it was some kind of cameo appearance in some random Italian movie that I wouldn't have to address. Maybe Nicolas Cage had simply made an appearance in the film to placate a friend of the Coppola family, or just happened to be in Italy at the time. So you'll imagine my amazement whereupon I discovered that Nicolas Cage was, in fact, the star of this English language Italian production. This fact became all the more bewildering as I attempted to do some cursory research on the movie ahead of watching it, and came up mostly empty. Listings for the movie certainly exist, as do a few scattered images and brief, often unintelligible user reviews. There is also a full stream of the movie available on Hulu at this very moment, should you suddenly have the desire to go watch it. However, I cannot recommend enough against this.
Suffice it to say, with no significant DVD release that I can point to (the DVD I bought looks like it was produced out of some dude's basement) and zero mentions of the movie anywhere in Cage's interview history, I had little to nothing to go on here beyond this bizarre, and frankly amazing IMDB plot summary as written by someone who clearly does not speak English as their first language. From IMDB user 1felco:
1936, Italian army is invading Ethiopia. Lieutenant Silvestri suffering toothache decides to reach the nearest camp hospital. But the lorry has an accident and stop near a rock, so Silvestri continues by walk. On his way he meets and rapes a wonderful young Ethiopian. He also wound her when he shot to a wild animal, and later kills her to avoid further pain. When he finally reaches the hospital, he realizes he gets probably leprosy. Trying to escape from Ethiopia Silvestri will kill again. But surprises aren't still over.
Crazy, right? What's even crazier is that, syntax aside, this is an incredibly accurate description of what Tempo di uccidere--heretofore referred to as Time to Kill--actually is.
Every plot point in Time to Kill is delivered precisely as capriciously as that description makes it sound. Things in Time to Kill don't so much happen on a natural timeline so much as they appear long enough to deliver whatever director Giuliano Montaldo thinks is the emotional point of the scene, before disappearing into the ether of incompetent editing. Nearly the entire hundred or so minute length of Time to Kill can be described as a long series of middles of scenes strung together, with the beginnings and endings either cut off and tossed away, or never filmed to begin with. It's like a really long supercut of a presumably multiple times longer movie about the Italian war in Ethiopia, circa 1936--except they released the supercut instead of the actual movie.
Early on, this weirdness is tempered mostly by the movie's overbearingly grim tone regarding that little-addressed war, in which Italy invaded the country of Ethiopia and found itself fighting rebel forces. Nicolas Cage plays Lieutenant Enrico Silvestri, a sour-faced, somewhat inscrutable man who initially, we only learn about from the heavy-handed, overly literary narration of his best friend, a sergeant played by Ricky Tognazzi. We meet both these characters in the barracks of a nameless Italian base somewhere near Ethiopia's coast. Cage, apparently bothered by a horrendous tooth ache, is off at the crack of dawn to get to the nearby town and find a dentist. His buddy chides him for leaving so early, given that the whole unit is apparently heading to town several hours later, but Cage doesn't even acknowledge it. He is a laser guided missile aimed squarely at a dentist's office, apparently.
Somewhere along the way, Cage disappears for the entirety of the day. The bumbling soldier who had been tasked with driving him to town wrecked their truck in a moment of supposed-to-be-comedy, and Cage, completely unfazed by the whole thing, decided to hoof it to a nearby construction site to see if a military doctor might be hanging around. We only find out about this as the driver relays the story to Tognazzi, who is left to wait back at the base for his friend to return. After 24 hours or so, he shows back up, seemingly no worse for the wear. But as it turns out, he has a Very Dark Secret he immediately wants to tell Tognazzi about. But first they have to go to the barracks, where Cage can relay the story in a darkened room while smoking perpetually so as to affect the proper atmosphere for relaying a Very Dark Secret.
So, about that whole rape thing... As weird as it sounds in that IMDB description, it's even more oddly placed within the context of the movie. Unable to find a doctor and aware that he needs to get back to base, Cage takes a rural path through a valley and after much hiking, stumbles upon a small waterfall, and a woman (Patrice-Flora Praxo) bathing in the river. This very nubile young Ethiopian woman is initially little more than someone who can maybe point Cage toward the correct path, but within what feels like seconds, Cage is tearing off her robe, pressing her to the ground, and making sweet, rapey love to her the way only Nicolas Cage can. Wait, that came out wrong. But you know what? So did this scene, so whatever. We'll just go with it.
Apparently not well-versed in the heralded traditions surrounding the rape of a native person, Cage fumbles a bit for a way to appease the woman, who herself seems altogether bewildered by the experience, though not terribly angry. He offers her money, which she turns down, presumably because the Italian lira hasn't become the official currency of the country yet. He then offers her his old, broken watch, which she is delighted to take. How, exactly, he gets from this moment to the next is somewhat unclear in my mind, but I do recall they have consensual sex at least once more outdoors, and then she takes him to some out-of-the-way cave, where they have consensual sex again, this time even more lovingly than the last.
And then he accidentally kills her while trying to shoot a hyena.
Look, I don't know either, okay? It's worth noting that all of this takes place probably within the opening half hour of the movie, over less than 24 hours of movie time. Within that narrow space, he managed to meet a woman, rape her, make her his lover, then accidentally shoot her in the stomach. None of this is handled with anything even resembling patience or care. Clearly the only stuff Montaldo took his time with was with the long, lustful shots of Cage eyeing the poor girl, both before and after the whole rape thing. From there, it's like one of those binge drinking benders where you lose major chunks of time, and only remember the most horrible, awkward pieces.
And this isn't even the height of Time to Kill's ridiculousness. Once he's buried her body (and retrieved his watch, because it would just be ridiculous for him to leave it behind) and returned home, minutes barely pass before suddenly, he's gripped with the fear that he may have inadvertently boned a leper. Yes, leprosy was a problem back in those times, and those afflicted with the disease often dressed in robes and headwear similar to what the poor girl was wearing. Worse still, a cut on Cage's hand was still fresh when he touched her bleeding stomach. And all this just as the Lieutenant is awarded his papers granting him furlough back to Italy. It's like the darkest, most twisted sitcom plot in the history of man.
The exasperating nature of that plot is made even more so by the fact that the script never exactly feels it necessary to throw any actual roadblocks at Cage's character. He's terrified that he has leprosy and that he'll be discovered by the military and sent to a leper colony, but the way he goes about dealing with that is the most absurd thing you have ever witnessed. When he wants to try and debunk the possibility of infection, he approaches a military doctor while keeping his hand shoved in his pocket like he's very clearly hiding his wound. He proceeds to ask the doctor questions from the perspective of a protagonist in a novel he's supposedly writing, and the doctor obliges, probably very well aware that he's talking about himself. The doctor makes no offensive overtures toward him, nor does he appear that he'd be likely to turn himself in. And yet the second he turns his back, Cage draws his gun and gathers the nerve to shoot, only he misses him, and instead runs off.
Elsewhere, Cage is trying to get aboard his ship bound for Italy, but can't get there without getting a stamp of approval from the guard working a nearby checkpoint. At no point does anyone do anything to make Cage assume that he is being tracked, or that the military is even demanding medical checks for those about to get on the boat. And yet he flips out and runs off into the night, sleeping in a nearby ditch and missing his boat. He then concocts an elaborate scheme meant to get him on board another ship as a stowaway, but that plan requires 30,000 lire to be paid to a smuggler. So, to do that, he has to rob a corrupt Major (Giancarlo Giannini), which he does via one of the more ludicrously overwrought stick-up scenes I've ever witnessed. And then he somehow ends up in the village of the girl he killed, being taken care of by her wise old father. No, I really don't know how he got there, but sincerely, within maybe three minutes of screen time of having robbed a dude, he's shoeless, bearded, and desperately trying to make things right with this poor father, who initially has no idea that Cage has killed his daughter.
That is the staple of Time to Kill as a movie. It is defined almost solely by its desperate grabs for wartime drama, and outright refusal to actually allow any of its characters to experience any of those dramatic moments without being shoved there forcefully by the writers. Whatever build-up a normal movie might go through in order to get a character from point A to B is excised in favor of all of the points all of the time. He's angry! He's raping! He's mournful! He's got leprosy, probably! He's gonna rob a guy! He's repentant! And suddenly, everything's okay again.
Yes, somehow, some way, Time to Kill wraps up its deeply deranged tale with a nice, neat bow, in which Cage gets away scot-free. Both Cage and Tognazzi end up on a boat home, Cage apparently cured of his injuries and having learned that the girl actually didn't have leprosy. For no reason I can fathom other than he needed it to match his stock footage of Italian troops getting on a boat, Montaldo shifts the movie's final scenes into black and white, and proceeds to let Cage glibly state for the record that he's feeling great and ready to get back to Italy and to his wife (oh, yeah, he's married, by the way). And then we get a bit of pseudo-poetic narration from Tognazzi's character about how he never saw Cage again, and something about the horrors of war, and then the movie just kind of ends.
I realize this week's entry has read perhaps a bit more like a full-on recap of the movie than a proper essay, but I don't really know what else to do with Time to Kill. The movie is such a minor blip on Cage's career radar that to try and assess its overall value within that context is like trying to assign value to a smudge on a giant stained glass window. Cage hasn't really spoken about the movie anywhere that I've been able to find, and seems perfectly happy to just forget he was ever a part of it.
And with good reason. Time to Kill is a dreadfully inept piece of filmmaking, the kind of thing that, had anyone been aware of it, probably would have become fodder for an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes, it's Gene Hackman in Space Travelers bad. It's Robert Vaughn in Hangar 18 bad. It's Raul Julia in Overdrawn at the Memory Bank bad.
And no amount of Nicolas Cage shouting and gesticulating and raping can make that any less true. He's completely indifferent to the movie he's in, perhaps utterly aware that he has no good reason to be there. His fellow actors aren't much better, with only Giannini bothering to have any fun with a completely idiotic role. His few bits of narration are spit out with all the enthusiasm of a man who actually has leprosy, reading less as the prose of a haunted man than the regurgitated leftovers of every other self-important war movie of the era. Time to Kill aims for a vibe that is perhaps something like a cross between Platoon and Out of Africa, but instead plays more like unenthusiastic parody. It's atrocious from top to bottom, making it no wonder that nobody would ever go to the trouble of trying to dig this piece of shit up from the cinematic scrap heap. Everybody involved seems dead-set on forgetting that Time to Kill ever happened. I can only hope that, by some miracle of chance, I'll have the opportunity to forget it too.
- One of the more bewildering aspects of Time to Kill is that it constantly changes narrators, with Cage narrating portions of his own story, and Tognazzi narrating other random swaths of the plot. The movie is based on a novel, so it's obvious that the screenwriters just took random chunks of the book's narration and just shoved them in wherever it seemed convenient.
- The amount of time Montaldo spends pointing the camera at various parts of Plaxo's slender, shining, nude frame makes the whole rape thing seem all the more uncomfortably pornographic. There isn't even a sex scene, really, but even the allusion to everything happening during that chunk of the movie just makes me feel icky all over.
- I own this movie now. I really don't know how I feel about that.