Prime Time is a Stressful Ride, But Doesn’t Take You Where You Think It Will
Film: Prime Time
Director: Jakub Piątek
Category: Feature – World Cinema Dramatic
Prime Time is the feature film directorial debut of Jakub Piątek, a Polish filmmaker best known for his work in documentary films from his previous films Mother (2009) and One Man Show (2014). With a spectacular cast in Bartosz Bielenia (Corpus Christi) and Magdalena Popławska (53 Wars), this film should have been so much better than it is. While being an engaging watch, this film intentionally chooses not to deliver on its premise for the sake of a value assessment of media and how it impacts the world.
The film starts quickly, with Sebastian (Bartosz Bielenia) taking a TV host and security guard hostage on New Year’s Eve 1999 during a broadcast leading up to the new millennia. TV host Mira (Magdalena Popławska) and security guard (Michal Kaleta) are trapped in a TV studio with an angry and armed young man who has something he wants to say on live television. He says he needs the viewers to hear his message. The studio’s manager and the police are above the operating room for the studio, and spend most of this film stalling and trying to negotiate with Sebastian. At one point, the police chief brings Sebastian’s father, who berates him for his life and actions in the moment, aggravating a tense situation. Escalating in response to his father’s words, Sebastian suggests that he has a bomb in his bag in addition to the gun, causing the police to evacuate the building suddenly. After reconnecting in the building next to the studio, the chairman of the TV station agrees to broadcast Sebastian’s message, but this attempt fails as he realizes that the chairman and police are lying to him.
In between tense interactions with the police, Sebastian, Mira, and the security guard get to know each other, and the situation inside the studio almost becomes very Stockholm Syndrome-esque. Mira and the guard begin to sympathize with Sebastian’s desire to be seen and heard, especially after the interaction with his father. These three cast members do a fantastic job of keeping you engaged throughout a film that drags on a bit. Sebastian goes from calm and waiting to frantic and violent very quickly, and Mira’s reactions are very real. If only this cast had been given a story that was far more compelling and better paced than this.
Prior to Prime Time, Jakub Piątek’s only dramatic work was his short film Users (2019), and given the struggles this film has with pacing, it may well have done better as a short film. Piątek comments that they chose to set this in 1999 and focus on television as a medium because at the time, Polish people watched up to 4 hours of TV per day, and television was shaping culture. While an interesting perspective, using what appears to be a hostage thriller movie as the medium to tell a story about the influence of media and the inefficiency of bureaucracy ultimately makes this film boring. Did you want to watch this film to find out why Sebastian was holding a TV hostage at a TV studio and what he had to say? Too bad. The film ends with the audience never finding out what Sebastian’s message was, he’s arrested, and never heard from. Instead, you get a nebulous message on how media changes our self-perspective in a dated mode of television that doesn’t deliver on its exciting premise. The cast deserves credit for their great performances, but this film, unfortunately, doesn’t follow through on its story.
Review Score: 3/5
Where Can You Watch: There are no details available yet about where the film will be released.
Bonus Content: Check out the Q&A with director Jakub Piątek and cast lead Bartosz Bielenia on the Sundance Film Festival Youtube channel. Watch here