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Primer
3.5/5
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Shane Carruth
with Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Samantha Thomson, Chip Carruth, Delaney Price, Brandon Blagg, Jon Cook, John Carruth, Juan Tapia
release US 8.Oct.04, UK 19.Aug.05
04/US 1h17

What have we done: Sullivan and Carruth

Winner:
Grand Jury Prize & Sloan Award
sundance film fest

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Primer There's a huge amount of talent in this micro-budget thriller. With his family and friends as cast and crew, and very few special effects, Shane Carruth spins a remarkably mind-bending tale that gets progressively more complicated and confusing. If he could've made some sense of it in the end, he'd have a masterpiece on his hands.

Aaron and Abe (Carruth and Sullivan) are young engineers who need some notoriety, so in their spare time they devise a machine that alters gravitational pull. But that's not all it does. Without telling their colleagues (Gooden and Upadhyaya) or families, they test the effects of bending time and space, but the further they go the more difficult it is to unravel the consequences.

Carruth's genius is his deceptive complexity. With a style reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's first films (Following and Memento), he assembles his story with jarring but engrossing crosscutting, masking the small budget with assured camerawork, evocative music and extremely subtle performances. Much of the dialog is hilariously impenetrable science-babble. Yet when Aaron and Abe use everyday words and phrases to discuss their time-space experiments, we understand them even less. It's witty, clever and disarming, and utterly gripping. "Are you hungry? I haven't eaten since later this afternoon."

Meanwhile, the two actors give it an emotional layer through their inner longing for success, their wonder at discovery, excitement at the possibilities, arrogance over their seemingly unlimited new powers, and fear about what they might have done to the world as a result. This is the strongest aspect of the film, and the only thing that resonates with us. Because as the story progresses, it ties itself up in knots until we simply are incapable of making any meaningful sense of it. We leave the cinema literally shaking our heads to untangle our thought strands.

If even the central characters can't follow their story, what chance do we have? Fortunately, it seems like Carruth knows what happened. So maybe frequent DVD viewings will help us decode his plotline. Although there's one thing that's not in doubt: we'll keep our eyes on Carruth as a filmmaker.

cert <b>12</b> themes, brief language 24.Jun.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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