|Assault on Precinct 13 brings nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking to the interrogation table, but viewers may appreciate the care taken to provide a film stocked with solid performances and an emphasis on creative cinematography and set design. The filmmakers seem to have been intent on providing a strong police drama that fans of the genre and general police-themed films would appreciate. Fans of the actors might also find themselves impressed by the deliveries of the well chosen cast.|
If one can ignore the preponderance of swear words (which, considering the subject matter, probably rightly stand with the territory), the cast handles the swift pace and demanding physical demands of the film with enthusiasm. Lead star Ethan Hawke jumps hard into his role of a police officer dealing with the recent loss of his undercover team who is forced into helping protect a precinct full of convicts and other policemen. Hawke has shown himself capable of displaying intelligence in roles in multiple genres and this action film is a prime example of his ability to make himself appear a natural part of the film's world.
And Hawke is joined by a very capable supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, who delivers an equally demanding performance as a crime boss held in the precinct and the reason the precinct is under siege. The scenes between Fishburne and Hawke are worth watching twice, as they are both so filled with honesty and intensity. The screenwriter should receive some credit for creating some worthy and appropriate dialogue for the actors to utter and although the dialogue was made more interesting simply because of the caliber of actors cast.
In an additional strong role, supporting star John Leguizamo showcases his signature ability to make a character equally comedic and tragic as the drug addicted convict "Beck." His characters are many times filled with a little natural insanity and it's clear that a lot of his dialogue in this film was improvised on the day of shooting. The improvisation is welcome though in a movie so filled with serious dramatics and menacing glares. And there are quite a few serious glares and moments shared between a group of characters thrust into quite a difficult scrape.
Other well cast actors include Ja Rule, who plays "Smiley," another convict, Drea de Matteo, who plays the precinct secretary "Iris," Gabriel Byrne, who plays "Marcus Duvall," the man responsible for the siege on the precinct, and Brian Dennehy, who plays "Jasper O'Shea," a cop on the precipice of retirement. Each of these actors takes on role that requires both a physical and mental intensity that needs to last for the duration of the film to match the feature's methodical pacing.
That element, the basic plotting of the film, is probably the film's most noticeable failing. This movie is much more a crime drama that showcases the psychology of its characters and not the inventiveness of the plot. There is much more of an emphasis on adding a dark style to the feel of the film than there is on bringing a fresh plot to the table. In the realm of police dramas, it's difficult to determine whether something as necessary as plot can be forgotten in lieu of gripping performances.
Additional filmmaking elements such as lighting, cinematography, and production design have obviously been treated with as great care as the casting and this is definitely to the film's benefit. Sporting tilted camera angles, long flowing shots, shaky hand-held running, crane shots, cinematographer Robert Gantz displays well Paul Austerberry's production design. The film is very clearly presented as an experience bent on taking its viewers on a taut and intense visual ride that just happens to sport a strong cast.
A strong nod should also be thrown the composer's way as Graeme Revell's original score easily equals the intensity required by the characters and their circumstances. Ravell consistently delivers musical scores that are a different breed than the standard lush orchestral scores of many Hollywood motion pictures and Assault is a strong forum for one of his unique musical creations.
2005's Assault is certainly a different breed of film than John Carpenter's original version from the 1970's, but director Jean-François Richet has placed many homage’s to Carpenter's film while trying to create a different feature film experience. The performances, visual look, score, and cinematography of the film have all been chosen and created with care and the movie is a strong example of its genre and a worthy theatrical experience.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.