This wildly hyped production features not only the dramatic presence of BAFTA award-winning actress Scarlett Johansson, veteran music video director Sam Bayer and a budget upwards of 1 million dollars, but strangely the writing credits of one Nick Cassavetes as well. What's strange is not that Cassavetes once wrote the screenplay for Blow or directed sobfest The Notebook, but the fact that this 9 minute extravaganza features a writing credit at all. Music videos rarely, if ever, have featured screenwriters so prominently.
So with such potential it's unfortunate that the video fails so badly, particularly in the department of writing. Not only are the few moments of dialogue uncomfortably poor, but the structure and plot of the semi-narrative is far from strong. The interludes feel quite unnecessary, and the story could have been easily told without any dialogue at all. Though this is merely a shorter version of a supposed 34-minute complete video, one can't really imagine things improving much with more time. If anything there is a lot of the same stuff over and over.
JT's stunning original track is over 7 minutes itself, and has been described by the singer as his best work to date. Though it seems to cover much of the same ground as the iconic "Cry Me a River," this Timbaland produced track was in fact written from the perspective of Timberlake's friend who was cheated on himself. Yet JT's performance of the new song at the Grammy's featured a home video camera which seemed to directly reference the video for 2004's smash hit (which was purportedly based on his breakup with Britney Spears).
Regardless, director Bayer and writer Cassavetes are well aware of the history of Justin Timberlake - and specifically the "Cry Me a River" saga. So their decision to focus on the line "should've known better when you came around/that you where gonna to make me cry," rather than the more obvious song title, gives the opening of the video a little bit more oomph. They seem to want to paint Ms. Johanssen as a femme fatale, and one that gives JT signs of trouble from the very beginning - if only he would pay attention.
When the climactic car crash occurs our immediate response is to scratch our heads at the illogical turn of events, is this video implying that Johanssen deserves to die for cheating on Justin? Probably not. Rather it seems to say that Justin himself should have been more aware of where things where headed, at least in terms of the infidelity, from the beginning. After all when he picked her up she said she was bored and with someone, and then suddenly decides to go off with him on wild adventures (including one where she pretends to die, just for kicks). The creators spice things up with the unexpected car chase - Justin trying to keep up with the out of control Scarlett - that ends tragically. A twist of fate that still fits with the themes of the song.
All this on paper almost looks half-way interesting, but the team fails to translate any real tension to the screen. The scenes are poorly conceived, and the pace is muddled by the random shots of fire-wielding dancers (more foreshadowing of danger) and a long section of plot stagnation in the middle. The eventual car crash is a little over-the-top, but would work if the rest of the video wasn't so dull. We know she will cheat on him, but it takes much too long to get to that point. One almost wishes they would have stuck to more shots of Scarlett and JT just looking hot together, but instead they basically insult the former's acting ability by feeding her some really nonsense lines. Of the two JT actually ends up fairing better as far as acting performance goes.
With a little more directorial patience and wit, this expensive video might have been something special. Instead we have yet another wasted opportunity in mainstream music video - and we didn't even talk about the inherent sexism of the thing. One wants to at the very least applaud JT and his crew for trying something new, but in many ways there is little risk taken here at all. Michael Jackson made at least two long-form videos that are superior and even Usher's "Caught Up" was more entertaining. Director Bayer uses a lot of his same old tricks from behind the camera, and there are few, if any, memorable shots. In the end, even though it includes the presence of the red-hot Johanssen and a bona fide hit song, a 1 million dollar "event" video should be so much more than this.