Movies showing a group of people outnumbered and under attack from hostile forces almost always quicken my pulse and make my heart pound so fast I feel completely exhausted by the end of the film. I call these movies "Drums along the Mohawk experiences" in honor of the first such film I saw back in days of yore. Assault on Precinct 13, starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, carries on this tradition -- and I’m still trying to recover from its relentless suspense.
Both Hawke (Taking Lives) and Fishburne (The Matrix Reloaded) turn in splendid performances here. As a burned-out cop who’s in charge of protecting a group of criminals inside a rinky-dink Detroit precinct on a snowy New Year’s Eve, Hawke shows his considerable talent for projecting a wide range of emotions. Whether his character is tossing off sarcastic remarks to shrink Maria Bello, crying for help when one of his team takes a fatal bullet, or tensing up at decision-making, Hawke is totally believable as a troubled man trying to regain his courage during a terrifying attack by unknown assailants. And Fishburne, in the role of a mob boss who’s one of the criminals held in Precinct 13 for the night, fills the screen with his elegant charisma and impressive physical stature. These two fine actors play off each other effectively in scenes of cooperation as well as conflict.
As the other members of Precinct 13’s besieged temporary inhabitants, Brian Dennehy, Drea de Matteo, Aisha Hinds, Ja Rule, John Leguizamo and Maria Bello offer outstanding support. But I can’t help wishing that Leguizamo, who portrays a pathetic druggie, had adopted a more easily understood lingo. Leading the outside attack forces, Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata) oozes evil in his menacing portrayal of another kind of devil.
Matching the excellent work of these actors, director Jean-Francois Richet (All About Love) moves James DeMonaco’s (The Negotiator) smart screenplay along with fast-paced action, and cinematographer Robert Gantz (Mindhunters) makes the most of the wintry setting as well as the close quarters of jail cells and a run-down building. Thankfully (because of my migraine potential), jerky hand-held camera shots are kept to a minimum and only a couple of action shots come across too dark to see what’s happening.
Assault on Precinct 13 is based on John Carpenter’s 1976 film of the same name. I haven’t seen the original, but I can’t imagine it being any better than this exciting 2005 remake.
(Released by Rogue Pictures and rated “R” for strong violence and language throughout and for some drug content.)