Monday, January 17, 2011

Movie Review: 13

Vince (Sam Riley) stumbles onto what appears to be an opportunity to get his family out of financial debt. In order to capitalize on it, he assumes the identity of a dead man. As a result, he becomes a contestant in the most harrowing game imaginable. The other contestants seem equally bemused. Among them are cow poke Jesse James Jefferson (Mickey Rourke) and the mentally disturbed Ronald Lynn (Sam Winstone).

Also in attendance are various parties who have a financial stake in the outcome of the games. Jimmy (50 Cent) intends to assure that Jefferson plays out his string to the end, and Jasper (Jason Statham) does likewise for the unpredictable Ronald. As the deadly game commences, Detective Mullane (David Zayas) races against the clock to infiltrate and dismantle the organization behind this deadly contest. The winner will be a very rich man, but he will be put through a Hellish ordeal before he can claim his prize.

Mickey Rourke as Jesse James Jefferson

13 is an American remake of the French film 13 Tzameti. Both were written and directed by Georgian-French filmmaker Géla Babluani. The film is essentially a brutal thriller that hinges on a rather disturbing gimmick (or plot device, depending on which terminology you prefer). While American viewers may be intrigued by the premise, the execution will leave many feeling alienated. Whatever pains Babluani has gone to in order to make this story more palatable for American tastes, the film retains considerable bite as this sort of premise can only be watered down so much.

The camera remains stationary for most of the running time, playing the role of a dispassionate observer. The whole story seems to be told from a rather cold and detached point of view. Even when the characters themselves react to the proceedings in horror, the camera remains stoic. The film was shot on location in New York City and Westchester County (My old stomping grounds). Much use is made of the MTA Metro North Railroad. The movie was filmed in fall of 2008, the gloomiest time of year in New York. The grey skies and grey snow, coupled with the skeletal forms of leafless trees suggest the foreboding presence of death.

The story begins literally with a bang, hinting to the outcome of the game. It then immediately flashes all the way back to the beginning. Everything feels rather aimless until Vince embarks on his quest. The supporting characters, while not uninteresting, don’t feel vital to the plot. The film clearly means for our focus to remain squarely on Vince. We don’t sympathize with him so much as we recoil in horror to the predicament he gets himself into. Once the second act gets underway, 13 is undeniably compelling.

Sam and Ronald face-off.

The performances vary. None are particularly bad, but since many of the supporting characters seem to be present merely to fill things out, much of it feels inconsequential. Sam Riley does a solid job as Vince. His repulsion and anxiety are palpable. Both Mickey Rourke and Sam Winstone do what audiences have come to expect from them. 50 Cent has a minimum of screen time and dialogue. He plays the part of Jefferson’s overseer with deadpan aloofness. This is yet another role where he doesn’t show an ounce of the charisma that made him a rap star. To his credit, his presence isn’t detrimental to the film. Even if it were, he isn’t given enough screen time to cause any real damage. Jason Statham is quite impressive. He isn’t here to perform insane stunts or administer beatings. Jasper is as close to human as he has ever been required to play.

13 is quite effective, though that isn’t to say it’s very enjoyable. The construction isn’t airtight, but once the real story gets going the film manages to hold the audiences attention. 13 is elusive and distant, drawing you in without really allowing you to connect with anything that happens. It has no real moral stance on what it shows, which makes it all the more disturbing. A bit more of an emotional/moral core might have made it a bit more involving, but I suspect that is not the story its maker wanted to tell.

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