Assault On Precinct 13 (2005)
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Assault On Precinct 13 (2005)

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It is becoming increasingly popular in Hollywood to retread old films. Even if the original film was not wildly popular todayís screenwriters seem to feel the need to revisit old ground. Some of these films are almost shot for shot recreations of the original, never a good idea. Others are what are being called re-imaginings, similar only by the inclusion of a few key plot points. While there are some similarities to the John Carpenter original here you can vastly increase your enjoyment of this flick if you consider that this is a modernization of a much beloved classic genre, the western. Just replace the remote fort with the precinct house, the people inside as the townsfolk and the bad guys as the Indians (or the more politically correct Native Americans) and you will faire far better in your viewing. This is a tale of the small group of people holding off the horde set upon their destruction. While several others have noted this throw back to the western it does hold up and may give a slightly different perspective on the film.

Precinct 13 is a dilapidated building, set to be abandoned by the city at midnight. Jake Fornick (Ethan Hawke) has the lamentable task of acting as the desk sergeant for the last shift of men this precinct will see. While relatively young Jake is already at the end of the road. Haunted by the death of two partners police work on the street has been a heavy burden on the man. With Jake is an older officer, Jasper O'Shea (Brian Dennehy) rushing towards the end of his career they share what should have been a easy task of overseeing the closing of the house. All this changes when a highly sought criminal Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is brought in along with a motley crew of other crooks. It turns out that Bishop has the goods the corrupt police officer Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne) and several others that are on the job. Unless Duvall and his men can get to Bishop and silence him they face the termination of their careers and most likely some heavy jail time. The bad cops lay siege to the station house with mayhem in their hearts. Okay, thatís a bit melodramatic but after you see the film youíll understand that it fits.

What makes this film work in the fashion that it does goes to the fact that while there are some pieces of homage to the original it stands on its own as a film. The use of venerable genre elements found in so many old John Wayne flicks gives the audience a sense of familiarity. Itís even set on the proverbial dark and stormy night adding to the sense of dread that pervades the work. While I did look forward to reviewing this film initially it was because the cast contained many of my favorite actors. I found that the story did pull me in and kept my attention.

Speaking of the cast it is excellent. Ethan Hawke is one of those actors that turns up in the most unlikely roles and always gives his all. His talent is making an emotional connection with the audience making then actually care about his character. Here, he plays Jake initially as a sympathetic loser. He is all but crushed when an undercover operation goes bad resulting in the death of his partners. This sets up a story of redemption when he refuses to give in to the growing threat outside the precinct house. Brian Dennehy has played just about every role conceivable in his long career. He always gives the audience a performance of merit and this film is no different. He presents a man that should be winding down in his professional life yet circumstances demand that he put everything on the line. Laurence Fishburne is the classic smooth operator. He commands the screen in every scene he appears in. His stage persona is such that no matter what the material we enjoy the performance. Playing counter point to Fishburne is Gabriel Byrne. He brings a similar vibe here as he did in the incredibly great film Usual Suspects. Byrnes has the ability to be threatening without going over the top, a gesture or phrase becomes as dangerous as a gun pointed at your head.

For comic relief the producers turned to one of the best, John Leguizamo. He brings his flair for stand up comedy to play here as the small time crook Beck. His constant verbiage gives just the right break at the right time. Maria Bello is an incredible actress who is not given the proper opportunity to display her talents here, yet she does well with what she does have. Many rap artists are trying to break into film but few manage to actually display a talent for acting. Fortunately, Ja Rule (aka Jeffery Atkins) holds up well in both the dramatic and more comical scenes. Besides Ms Bello the edge is taken off this testosterone heavy film with the inclusion of Drea de Matteo. While she is mostly the frighten secretary her innate command of her craft does manage to show through.

This is the first English language film for director Jean-FranÁois Richet, it is also the first film he directed that he did not write. While bringing another personís words to the screen is often a difficult task for a new director Richet handles himself well. For one thing he paces the film in such a manner that the audience is never overwhelmed by innovative and bloody action scenes. He also works well by creating a claustrophobic feel to the station house. As the bad guys advance you can feel the walls closing in on the intrepid group inside. He balances such elements such as the flirtatious interaction of Bello and Hawke while never letting the tension fail to build. This takes talent and Richet has it. He also lets Hawke depart from the usual action hero, permitting him to be the more angst ridden and trouble man in circumstances far beyond his control.

Universal did an excellent job of presenting this film on DVD. The audio is provided in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. Thankfully the day of separate DTS releases are long behind us so it is easy to compare the two sound tracks. While both provide a realistic sound field with excellent ambience and effects in the rear channels, the DTS version was fuller, giving a broader sound stage. The sub woofer gets a work out with the inevitable explosions. The video is a crisp 2.40:1 that is near to reference quality. For extras there is a better than usual selection of featurettes that details the construction of the action sequences and the general production of the film. There is also a commentary track where the director, writer and producer explain the decisions that went into the making of the film. Itís a bit on the technical side but generally enjoyable. Several deleted scenes round out the extras. This film manages to hold its own in amidst the plethora of action films hitting DVD today. This is a perfect film to enjoy with some friends on a Friday night (after the kids are in bed) after you order a pizza and a couple of six packs, just go along for the ride and enjoy.

Posted 5/12/05

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