I tend to dread when the terms ‘Remake’ or ‘Re-Imagining’ are applied to a movie. In most cases it frequently is a euphemism for lack of imagination. Of course, there are a few notable exceptions where the revamped offering matches or even exceeds the original but these cases are exceedingly rare. These terms have been liberally applies to an action flick that recently crossed my path, 13’. The one noteworthy caveat applicable here is the same filmmaker for the original is responsible for this version. In 2005 Georgian born French filmmaker Géla Babluani released his initial opus, 13 Tzametim garnering several film festival accolades for his burgeoning career. It is a rather difficult to find item so admittedly I’ve not had an opportunity to watch it but the knowledge of this work did color my initial perception of this new release. The difference here and I have to maintain it is a significant one, is that this is comes from the same writer/director. The first movie was in black and white with dialogue in French and Russian. Now he has moved on to full color, this release is in Blu-ray, and natively in English. In many ways this can be considered a reworking of the original after the filmmaker has had a few years and another project to help hone his skills. On the special edition release of George Lucas’ earliest film ‘THX-1138’ one of the extras was a copy of the same concept as a short film, his term project. It was exceedingly fascinating to see how his style morphed, growing towards the filmmaker that he would soon become. In this light Babluani made a remarkably courageous decision to revisit old territory. He had to realize that many cinemaphiles would compare the two works opening him to more than the usual criticism. For anyone to openly invite such comments not only on a specific work but in a larger sense is progression as an auteur is indeed admirable. After viewing this film is isolation from its predecessor there is a significant amount of work ahead for this artist. There are some missteps taken that undoubtedly will improve if he maintains his present course of self discovery.
The film opens In medias res before flashing back several days to pick up the action. This is a fairly common plot device but one that is difficult to pull off properly. In this instance the filmmaker sabotages the flow of the film by delaying the main time line with admittedly vital exposition. Vince Ferro (Sam Riley) just happens to overhear a portion of a conversation regarding a man recently deceased. In a fashion typical of crime thriller Vince is in dire need of a large infusion of cash. In desperation he steals an envelope intended for the deceased that contains the particulars of the assignment; a plot that will certainly make a significant dent in his cash flow situation. Unfortunately the instructions are nothing that Ferro could have possibly imagined. Thirteen men identified only by their numbers are to engage in a series of competitions; Russian roulette. The twist specific to this game is the current set of players spin the revolver’s cylinder until a light indicates it is time to shoot. The men are arranged in a circle and the one holding the weapon has to fire at the man in front of him. Ferro tries to back up but that would ensure certain, immediate death. In each successive round the odds ante is upped with additional bullets in the chamber. Eventually Ferro is selected to participate in a one on one duel while others are paid off and leave. There is a bit of a twist at the end that is consistent with the overall dark mood and pervading theme of the story.
The theme of the movie did pique my interest; the randomness of life. It was established initially in a fairly subtle way with Ferro just happening to overhear a snippet of a random conversation. This one event impossible to predict, set in motion events that would pull this man into a dark and deadly game. The game itself is also an infamous manifestation of randomness; Russian roulette. Even as the number of bullets increases the randomness of the event is retained. This is nicely juxtaposed with the current villain of choice, the incredibly wealthy with no regard for life. For those behind the game it is just a game of chance much akin to anything in Las Vegas but with the stakes the lives of people they consider below their concern. In typical fashion the rich are seen putting others at risk rather than chancing their own random death. Money is demonstrated to something in great need by the participants, more than their own lives, but the members of the infamous ‘1%’ making the wagers, sum sums are inconsequential.
The cast is a rogue’s gallery of some of the best known male action stars on the scene today. A movie like this is not conducive to rapid action; it requires carefully constructed character deployment. In this film much of the character exposition is provided through flashbacks. This is consistent with the precepts of the film noir genre but Babluani is still on the learning curve and although his style holds great promise he is not there yet. The movie is dragged down under its own lumbering weight. The one female lead, Emmanuelle Chriqui along with Long time Indy princess Gaby Hoffman, provide an attractive distraction but it is insufficient to offset the ponderous, testosterone driven story. It is a flick full of potential that ultimately collapses under its own weight. A large part of this is the amount of time it takes to establish the foundation for the film’s premise. In concert with the disjointed chronology it is difficult for the audience to become engaged in the story. it could have been more and perhaps the filmmaker’s next try will demonstrate improvement but it is a reasonable pop corn flick for an afternoon when the guts are over but the game has been rained out.