random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

REEL REVIEW: 16 Blocks (2006) ****

16 Blocks (2006) big release
PG-13 (for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.)
1 hr. 45 min.
written by:Richard Wenk
produced by: Randall Emmett, Avi Lerner, Arnold Rifkin, John Thompson, Jim Van Wyk, & Bruce Willis
directed by: Richard Donner

Ever wake up in the morning and feel like ya just can't make it? I'm not talking ya just can't make it outta bed, I mean ya just. can't. make. it. You're eyes are heavy and dry. You're body just aches all over. Every noise affects you. Well, that's how New York detective Jack Mosely, badge number 227, feels and he looks it too. Mosely is a middle-aged cop who is ready to retire. He feels that "life is too long" and seeks therapy at the bottom of a bottle. He's written off by his peers as a man who has already quit.

Mosely is forced into taking a happy, but down-on-his-luck witness "16 Blocks" from the police station to 100 Centre Street, escort talkative witness Eddie Bunker to a courthouse to testify against other corrupt cops, who obviously don't want him to get there. It's a fairly high concept, but done in a way that allows the characters to really come through. I found the story to be more of a redemptive tale for characters who are polar opposites. Mosely (Bruce Willis), a dark guy and a heart attack waiting to happen, who is escorting this witness (Mos Def) who is a 14-time loser with a "sunny" (as Mosely puts it) outlook.

Bruce Willis and Dante 'Mos Def' Smith in Warner Bros. Pictures' 16 Blocks
From the trailer and because Bruce Willis is in the film, one might automatically think, "Aw, man, here's another action flick," or "What is this a remake of 'The Gauntlet' ?" Well, I'm hoping people will realize that despite Willis being popular for his action roles he's also made some great choices that have brought him roles with quite a bit to work with. Ever seen the movie "In Country" or "Nobody's Fool"? Great character movies that really showed that Willis is more than just either a comic or action star. Just look at all that Willis brings to the role in just his eyes. Every emotion that Jack Mosely feels is right there. He's spent. He's had it. We know he has some kinda dark past that's made him who he is but Willis does such a great job with the roles that we're not concerned with the specifics. He's given up on himself and his assignment to walk this witness (with his gimpy leg) unintentionally wakes him up to that fact.

Writer Richard Wenk doesn't stereotype these characters in any way which breaks it apart even further from any type of action-drama, buddy convention. The dialogue is real. There's no typical lines given for this wino cop as well as there's certainly none for Mos Def's motor-mouth character. What's great is I think we all have known or know, or at least have seen characters like this in real life. Could be a co-worker, a friend, a family member....heck, it could be you. The mile-a-minute, nonstop talker who tells you every detail about their life and assumes you're interested and still listening. Or the grizzled, sardonic, and cynical character unconsciously desperate to reconnect with what is right.

With these two characters being the protagonists in the film there of course needs to be an antagonist. I mean, a 16 block trip with a cheery witness has gotta be a walk in the park, er, I mean....city, right? Nope. Enter the perennial corrupt cop, Frank Nugent (David Morse) who turns out was Mosely's partner for twenty years. Yeah, he's a dirty cop but even he has his reasons for the way he is. His immoral justification adds to the tension he and his crooked-cop-cronies permeate as they pursue and thwart these two on their perilous journey. Just like Mosely's darkness, these cops didn't wake up one day corrupted. You can see this is a character element that is quite dense and layered. Great character for the ever-capable Morse to slide his way into. We've seen him in great character roles such as "The Rock", "Contact", "The Green Mile", "The Negotiator", and "Dancer in the Dark" for years. Always reliable and often taken for granted, I believe.

There's a great scene in a bar towards the beginning of their "walk" that takes place just after the catalyst scene. Mosely and Bunker are joined by Nugent and his gang in a kinda standoff that builds to set the pace of the rest of the movie. Some great expressions from all three of these guys here. Nugent tries to pat Mosely on the back and take Bunker into his own hands but Mosely notices something is up as he sees Bunker's _expression. Def masters this scene where we see just how pure and real his emotional response is to the tension and danger of the moment. What I was surprised about was how much I really liked these characters and their interaction. I wasn't too surprised I enjoyed the movie cuz I'm a huge Richard Donner fan.

Donner and Wenk make this movie into something so much more. With Donner's eye we taken to busy Chinatown, densely layered buildings, and streets. Similar to the city feel of his great "The Conspiracy Theory" we see the city as a character as well. Donner has developed at great shooting style as well. He has honed his craft on film classics like "Superman: the movie", The Goonies", "Ladyhawke", as well as the "Lethal Weapon" movies. If Donner had not directed this I may have been hesitant to see this. Combined with Wenk's superb script which drops any conventional norm and instead and character and depth. When Bunker enthusiastically tells Mosely that he has plans to open up a bakery specializing in birthday cakes in Seattle where his sister lives, he asks Mosely, "What kinda cake you like, man." Mosely looks at him in annoying disbelief and replies under his breath, "I don't like cake." Bunker is dumbfounded, "What? Who doesn't like cake?" It's moments like these that balance out the tension of the story and give these great actors opportunities to shine through these wonderful characters.

Ultimately, the movie is less about police corruption and moreso about what good can survive in a bitter and corrupt world and how redemption can be available when you least expect it. I saw this movie last night with my wife and Faith and they enjoyed it just as much as I did. The crowd at this premiere had a great time. Donner delivers!

Bruce Willis interview
Richard Donner & Richard Wenk interview

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