REVIEW: ‘Needle In A Timestack’ Is A Tangled Web of Romance and Time Travel

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Needle in a Timestack

Needle In A Timestack is a Lionsgate/BRON film written and directed by John Ridley, and adapted from the short story of the same name by Robert Silverberg. Architect Nick Mikkelsen (Leslie Odom Jr.) and his wife Janine (Cynthia Erivo) live in a future where time travel has become reality. A series of “time waves” leads Nick to believe that his best friend and Janine’s ex-husband Tommy Hambelton (Orlando Bloom) is altering the future to make sure he and Janine end up together. Although this leads to friction between Nick and Janine, Nick is ultimately proven right when the next wave leads to a timeline where he’s married to his old college sweetheart Alex (Frieda Pinto). Nick struggles with his new life, and whether or not he wants to be happy with Alex or to change time and win Janine back.

While he’s proven himself to be adept in multiple genres and mediums, including penning the Academy Award winner 12 Years A Slave and a string of comics including The Other History of the DC Universe and an upcoming Black Panther series, Ridley’s script can’t quite reconcile the elements of time travel and romance. Time travel as a luxury that only the rich can afford is an angle that hasn’t been explored in this subgenre, but Ridley strangely doesn’t consider how changing the past might affect other things. The phrase “Love is drawn in the form of a circle” resonates throughout the film, spoken by multiple characters; it would hit far harder if there were deeper consequences to the characters’ time traveling.

The love story also doesn’t hit as hard, which is a shame because time travel is often the genre that excels at exploring relationships and why they matter. From smaller-scale films like Synchronic to big blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame, the characters’ relationships are at the center. With Timestack, a lot of importance is heaped upon the importance of Nick and Janine’s relationship-but we don’t see what led to that relationship. Nor do we see what led to Nick and Tommy falling out, or Nick’s prior relationship with Alex. It would have been nice to see what made these relationships what they are and would have also justified the film’s nearly two-hour runtime.

Despite the thinly sketched relationships, Odom manages to turn in a stellar performance and is the film’s brightest spot. He touches on a wealth of emotions, including anger at the fact that someone is attempting to destroy his marriage and sheer despair when it works. You’ll be rooting for him to reunite with his wife throughout the film’s runtime, and the ending is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well; Bloom’s trademark charisma, which was on display in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings films, is traded for smug mugging. Erivo and Pinto feel extremely thinly sketched; you don’t get much out of Janine or Alex other than the fact that Janine is a photographer and Alex used to date Nick in college.

Though the story leaves much to be desired, the direction is surprisingly sharp. Ridley has given a great deal of thought to how the potential future might work out; smartphones and cars feel very sleek and the visual of “time waves” crashing over everyone is a genuinely inspired visual. Ridley also splits the film into three distinct chapters, each focusing on a different relationship; this is a creative way of approaching the three-act structure that most films use and also is a clever way to show how time travel affects Nick’s life.

Needle In A Timestack features a star-studded cast and a talented writer, but the blend of sci-fi and romance never quite lands, and the characters’ relationships feel thinly sketched. As a fan of Ridley’s work, I hope that his next directorial effort is more fleshed out in terms of character and story. But if you enjoyed Odom’s performance in Hamilton or you’re a sci-fi buff this is worth a watch.

Needle In A Timestack is currently available to view on digital and on-demand or to purchase on Blu-ray and DVD.


Needle in a Timestack
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

Needle In A Timestack features a star-studded cast and a talented writer, but the blend of sci-fi and romance never quite lands, and the characters’ relationships feel thinly sketched. As a fan of Ridley’s work, I hope that his next directorial effort is more fleshed out in terms of character and story. But if you enjoyed Odom’s performance in Hamilton or you’re a sci-fi buff this is worth a watch.