Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Casey Sanders,
Director: Richard Donner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: June 13, 2006
“You’re killin’ me.”
Up until recently, it hasn’t really occurred to many of us moviegoers, but Bruce Willis is close to reaching the age status of a veteran action star. Like Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford before him, Willis is starting gear towards roles in action thrillers that fit nicely around his age range. In Sin City, he played a wounded and weary cop, but that role was just a warm up for his role in 16 Blocks, which has showcases Willis as a character we’ve never seen him play before.
Willis plays Jack Mosely, an NYC cop who is barely able to get from point A to point B. He’s also an alcoholic, which doesn’t help either. In his years on the force, his job usually consists of one simple thing; arrive at a crime scene and wait for the uniforms to get there. It’s just about the only job he’s able to get accomplished in his tired state.
So it’s much to Jack’s surprise that he is handed the kind of assignment he normally doesn’t get. As his shift ends, he is given a last minute order, which is to transport a witness to a grand jury hearing. It’s a little after 8 am when Jack is given the assignment, and he has until 10 a.m. to get the witness to the hearing, because at that point the grand jury’s term expires.
Though it sounds like an easy task, it’s anything but for a couple of reasons. The first of which is the notion that New York City traffic makes it difficult to get anywhere very quickly. The distance to be reached is 16 blocks in less than two hours. The other problem is that the witness Jack is escorting, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), is a fast talking motor mouth; the kind of person Jack feels makes life much longer than it needs to be.
But Jack soon realizes that the very witness he is transporting is wanted dead by somebody. After making a stop at a liquor store, Jack takes out a couple of thugs who were close to erasing Eddie from existence. Before long, Jack’s longtime partner, and now superior, Frank Nugent (David Morse), meets the two of them at a nearby bar and things look to be much safer.
Actually, things are about to get much worse. It turns out that the witness is the key in pointing out some dirty work done by cops. And not just any cops, but ones in Jack’s own department. Since cops never rat out one of their own, Jack’s full cooperation is to be expected. But Jack fools his badge brothers by saving Eddie from certain death and going on the lam, destined to make it to the courthouse on time.
The movie’s director is Richard Donner, who’s made a career of stellar action thrillers and adventures. This is the man gave us the original Superman movie and the entire Lethal Weapon series. 16 Blocks represents Donner’s best work in quite some time, and the film itself is the epitome of a purely tight knit action thriller. It’s one set in real time, executed at a breakneck pace, and even delivers a nice surprise or two near the end.
From the moment Jack and Eddie find themselves running on foot from their enemies, the movie doesn’t let up for a single second. New York City serves as the setting for the ultimate scavenger hunt, as Frank and his team chase down Jack and Eddie through various areas including rooftops, subway trains and inside numerous buildings. The tension really escalates when Jack is forced to take a city bus hostage, and by this point you simply have no idea how the story is going to conclude.
The strong point of the film is in the cast, particular the chemistry between Willis and Mos Def. Since Jack is introduced to us as a tired drunk of a cop, we are to wonder what exactly motivates him to take a stand against police corruption and save the life of a man he hardly knows.
And Mos Def, a talented rapper who’s made notable film appearances in films such as The Italian Job and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, creates a character all his own with Eddie, a fast talking con who believes that anyone, regardless of what action they’ve done in the past, can change. With this film, Mos Def, whose musical talents can be seen in the rousing Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, announces himself as a true double threat.
Lastly there’s David Morse, one of our most treasured character actors, delivering one of his most grittiest performances yet as the film’s villain. Morse, whose strong supporting work in movies like The Rock and The Negotiator speak for itself, sinks his teeth with the fullest of force into the role of a longtime corrupt cop who will stop at nothing to see that Jack’s witness doesn’t make it to the courthouse.
Though it may pale in comparison to the unbeatable Running Scared, another action thriller set in a real time plot form, and that the plot may seem a little more than familiar (the 1977 Clint Eastwood thriller The Gauntlet could’ve very much serve as inspiration), 16 Blocks is a top of the line action thriller, and one that is crafted to absolute perfection. Donner’s directing, along with the strength of the cast and the suspense-laden story make this a must see for fans of the genre, without question.
Warner delivers yet another fantastic and sharp anamorphic presentation. The image quality is continuously clear and free of any flaws. Colors are a big plus and the New York City setting results in something of a strong and authentic look. Outstanding job all the way!
The 5.1 mix delivers a strong bang as only a fast paced action thriller like this could deliver. About 90% of the movie is either in action or suspense mode. The frequent shootout and chases result in constant sound action on each of the channels. Dialogue delivery and music playback are both of first-rate quality as well! Tremendously well handled!
This disc includes an alternate ending (and a most intriguing one) that can be viewed either separately or with the film itself, along with optional commentary from Richard Donner and screenwriter Richard Wenk. Also included on the disc is a full-length commentary from Donner and Wenk, Deleted Scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.
16 Blocks knows its formula and nails it right on the mark as a top-notch and expertly crafted action thriller. This fast paced thriller actually makes for superb summertime entertainment…right at home!