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ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Ja Rule, Drea de Matteo, Brian Dennehy, Gabriel Byrne
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2005

“If you use this situation to try and escape, it’s about me and you, cause when this is over, you’re going back to jail.”

“Relax, sergeant. This ain’t about me and you…NOT YET.”

Film ***

Assault on Precinct 13 is the film that introduced the world to John Carpenter. Many tend to think that Halloween in '78 was what put him on the map, but truth be told, this brutal action thriller made two years prior was his first true cinematic gem. However, though the film has become at least one of my favorite cult classics of all time, it has still gone unnoticed even to those who have seen most of Carpenter’s work.

So in an odd way, a remake was, in my opinion, not too bad of an idea. In my mind, if a remake can motivate people to discover the original, then there’s no problem with remaking it. But as it turns out, the 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13 is an explosive and very confidently made action film, and one of the best to come around in some time.

It doesn’t attempt to clone the original film in any way. All that remains is the plot formula, where a band of unlikely allies fight off an enemy that has cornered them in an abandoned police precinct. What’s important to note is that Carpenter’s film was an urban updating of the classic western Rio Bravo.

And talk about hardcore action. Assault on Precinct 13 represents the kind of movie that I started to think was fading away. Not since Bad Boys II has a single film gleefully displayed sequence after sequence of outrageous action sequences in pure R-rated glory. In the age of all too frequent PG-13-friendly action, it’s great to see an action thriller stick to its guns, no pun intended.

In addition, the movie does deliver in terms of character. Switching the setting from sunny L.A. to snowy Detroit, the story centers on Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke), a former narc whose guilt over the killing of his two partners during his last undercover assignment have led to a desk job on the graveyard shift at Precinct 13. Jake has spent the last 8 months popping pills and drinking heavily, sometimes on the job. His shrink, Alex (Maria Bello), feels that Jake, who doesn’t open up during their sessions, accepted the desk job as a means of hiding from the guilt.

On the other side of town, a major crime figure is arrested following a shoot out at a church. He is Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a city crime lord whose attracted the attention of several cops, particularly celebrated Special Forces cop Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne). Bishop is soon placed on a transport bus with other assorted criminals to be placed at the city jail.

Meanwhile, it happens to be Precinct 13’s last night of business, in addition to being New Year’s Eve. Jake and his office cohorts, including secretary Iris (Drea de Matteo) and veteran cop Jasper O’Shea (Brian Dennehy) prepare to throw a big bash before shutting down the precinct’s doors and relocating to a new district A furious snow storm plans the first of many surprises in store for the night.

The very transport bus carrying Bishop is forced by the storm to make a temporary stop at Precinct 13 until it clears. Though it’s the last night of operating, Jake is forced to harbor the prisoners in the building’s cells. As the New Year dawns, Jake and company soon discover that a group of heavily armed men have surrounded the building.

It soon turns out that the men in question are a unit of cops lead by corrupt cop Duvall. Bishop informs Jake that he was once in business with Duvall’s unit, and that his arrest would lead them to suspect that he’d spill the beans on their crooked operation. Duvall’s intentions are to take everyone in the building out, leaving no witnesses behind.

From this point on, Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t let up for a single second. The action is as fast and furious as one could ask for. Just when you think it’s on pause for a time out, the action kicks in again. This is a riveting pattern followed right to the end of the movie.

Another fascinating element in the movie is the tension developing between Jake and Bishop. Jake clearly needs the help of him and the rest of the imprisoned criminals, to assist in the fight against the men outside. At the same time, it is unclear as to whether Bishop is doing this to redeem himself, or to engage in the fight to save his own neck.

French director Jean-Francois Richet has made quite an effective and assaulting action piece. I am now convinced more than ever that French filmmakers understand the action genre better than just about anyone. In addition to Luc Besson, who directed The Professional, Richet has crafted a magnificently executed piece. Along with fellow newcomer Florent Siri, director of the Bruce Willis thriller Hostage, Richet shows immense promise as a terrific action filmmaker.

Without question, Assault on Precinct 13 accomplishes the very thing it was designed to do, which is deliver action and tension on the highest level possible. It is a well made, very well acted and written action movie, which is a labeling one doesn’t here quite often.

Video ****

This is quite a remarkable looking disc from Universal. Director Jean-Francois Richet illustrates a specific vision for this nighttime thriller, and the result is the kind of video performance that is somewhat unexpected. The movie is set mostly at night, which means a frequent amount of darkly lit scenes. There is absolutely no flaw in the disc’s performance, as the provided image is superbly crisp and clear, delivering outstanding all around detail.

Audio ****

Prior to watching this disc, I had slightly rearranged my speaker setup. I’m not sure if this was a factor, but what I can tell you is that 5.1 mix, provided both in Dolby Digital and DTS, caused me to lower my volume several times because the sound quality was so incredible and furious. Whatever the case, this is one brilliantly assaulting sound performance, with everything from dialogue to music score to that of consistent gun fire taking hold of the sound system and doing nothing short of rocking it to the floor. An amazing job!

Features ***1/2

Very much a good locked n’ loaded barrel of extras provided by Universal. Included is a commentary track with director Jean Francois-Richet, writer James DeMonaco and producer Jeffery Silver, deleted scenes with optional commentary, four vignette featurettes, “Armed and Dangerous”, “Behind Precinct Walls”, “Plan of Attack”, and “The Assault Team”, each of which covers specific areas of production. Also featured is a making of featurette titled “Caught in the Crosshairs”.

Summary:

For action cravers everywhere, Assault on Precinct 13 is can’t miss piece of cinematic rock n’ roll! Though the original movie is far superior, this remake is a tremendously well made movie on its own terms. An explosive ride on a very explosive DVD!

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