Thursday, 26 August 2010

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13

A remake of John  Carpenter’s 1976 original, itself inspired by Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, Jean-François Richet’s 2005 version retains the bare bones but it a different kettle of fish.
Ethan Hawke plays Sergeant Jake Roenick, an undercover cop for three years who is move to desk duty after a bust gone bad results in his two partners being killed and he himself injured, he runs an isolated station in Detroit which is in the process of being closed down. A notorious gangster, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne) is caught by the police after killing an undercover officer in a church, and a sequence of events sees his prison transport taking a detour to Roenick’s station in Precinct 13 during a heavy snowstorm. Bishop is put in the cells along with three other crims (including John Leguizamo’s annoying junkie Beck), and Roenick, Brian Dennehy’s old school cop, Maria Bello’s stranded police psychologist, Drea de Matteo’s admin clerk,  and the prison bus officers commence a bit of New Year’s celebrations. The party is cut short after the station is invaded and shots are fired, and thus begins a night under siege as heavily armed assailants try and kill everyone in the building.

The Carpenter original wore its influence on its sleeve, the criminal gang assaulting the station made otherworldly in their portrayal as relentlessly fixated on destroying those in the station, their lack of dialogue dehumanising them and making them an unstoppable force more akin to zombies than people. The remake gives everything a context with police corruption and betrayal at the heart of the plot, the attackers (headed by Gabriel Byrne) given a voice and motivation, along with military tactics and therefore placing this version on a level with any number of action B pictures rather than the ethereal menace cultivated in the 1976 version.
The soundtrack is another area lacking, Carpenter’s sparse synths creating  brooding menace in the original, here an orchestral score by numbers which no doubts adds to the tension but not in a way better than most other higher-budget action thrillers.
The action scenes themselves are good though, despite mainly limited to people shooting at/out of a building, and there are a number of bloodthirsty in-camera effect shots which are pretty brutal if not quite at the child-killing level of the first.

There is an attempt to give the characters a little more depth, Roenick is now resorting to drink and drugs and his psychologist accuses him of avoiding responsibility since his old team were shot, meaning events force him into a situation where he has to take charge. Muddying this is the presence of Fishburne, his character Bishop coming with a fearsome gangland reputation as an unhesitant murderer and possessed of a unique poise; Fishburne manages to inject a wealth of menace into Bishop with very little violence in terms of action or delivery, his quiet smiles are warm rather than leering but point to an utter confidence that he is in control, unnerving any fixed with his gaze. Having lost so much of the original’s atmosphere it is mainly Hawke and Fishburne’s performances that help prevent this becoming just another men with guns flick, and their character development in context of what is a fairly standard action setting shows some of the origins of how Richet would later go about bringing the Jacques Mesrine two-parter to the screen.
In its own right the Assault on Precinct 13 remake is half decent, but not a patch on the original.


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