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The film 13 Minutes follows the residents of a small U.S. town that is suddenly threatened by the largest tornado on record.Elevated Films

  • 13 Minutes
  • Directed by Lindsay Gossling
  • Written by Lindsay Gossling and Travis Farncombe
  • Starring Thora Birch, Anne Heche and Amy Smart
  • Classification PG; 108 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Nov. 5

Canadian director Lindsay Gossling’s 13 Minutes is a curious thing. It’s categorized as an environmental thriller about a tornado upending a rural community – but there aren’t many thrills here. The film is pure soapy drama, a collection of tales jumbled together, with the tornado an incidental element.

It flicks through the lives of four families with the pace of a miniseries. Thora Birch is gravely underutilized as Jess, a mechanic whose 19-year-old daughter Maddy (Sofia Vassilieva) learns that she’s pregnant and debates whether she should get an abortion. The town gynecologist is Tammy (Anne Heche), a pro-lifer and parent to Luke (Will Peltz), who is gay and afraid of coming out to his parents. The local weather person is Brad (Peter Facinelli); his wife, Kim (Amy Smart), is head of the local emergency response team. Finally, there is Ana (Paz Vega), who is trying to save enough to buy a home for her and her husband, Carlos (Yancey Arias), an undocumented immigrant.

Insofar as its saccharine, Lifetime-movie-esque depiction of the bigness of small-town lives, 13 Minutes works. But as a disaster movie, it fails.

Gossling has freighted each of her characters with a meaty story, and her cast play them in a way that does justice to the pain they must feel. Yet everyone’s plights seem plucked out of a list of trending buzzwords – ideas around immigration, a woman’s right to choose and a person’s right to love whomever. While all worthy topics, they’re each fighting for screen time, smacking ultimately of the perfunctory identity tokenism of something such as Paul Haggis’s Crash.

Meanwhile, the tornado doesn’t come to raze the town until the end of the second act, and when it does, it lasts for but a moment. The Day After Tomorrow, a disaster flick that mined its environmental catastrophe to either build or wreck the relationships of its characters, burrowed into the cataclysmic event to incite their growth or deterioration. This isn’t what happens here. Instead, 13 Minutes doesn’t explore how the short period of time during which a disaster lasts can feel like an eternity – rather, it rushes past it.

The film could still function if the tornado were elided. The characters’ fates aren’t altered by it; the stakes remain as they were before disaster strikes. The film’s heart may be in the right place, but a melodramatic score, pastoral cinematography and deeply sentimental character arcs make for an altogether mediocre drama, not an urgent thriller.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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