Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)
“The only people more dangerous that the hardened criminals… are the cops.”
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lawrence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne
Synopsis: A police sergeant must rally the cops and prisoners together to protect themselves on New Year’s Eve, just as corrupt policeman surround the station with the intent of killing all to keep their deception in the ranks.
At the beginning of Jean-Francois Richet’s remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (which was itself a reworking of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo), undercover cop Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke — The Purge) is trying to reel in a pair of burly foreign drug dealers, and Richet’s use of jump cuts gives the false impression that this is going to be one of those edgy yet artistic essays in directorial self-indulgence. Thankfully, apart from a couple of brief lapses here and there, Richet plays it fairly straight, and following this prologue, which sees two of Roenick’s colleagues losing their lives when the deal goes bad, the movie settles down to tell its story straight.
Fast-forward eight months and Roenick’s a shell of his former self, chugging booze and popping pills to keep himself functioning while acting highly dismissive of the counselling sessions he’s forced to attend with psychologist Alex Sabian (Maria Bello — Duets, Prisoners). Since that opening incident, Roenick’s got himself an assignment behind a desk at the titular police station which, on New Year’s Eve, is about to close down and relocate to a shiny new precinct. In fact, the only people in the station as a heavy snow storm heads Detroit’s way are Roenick, grizzled veteran Jasper (Brian Dennehy — Dummy), sex-mad Iris Ferry (Drea de Matteo) and Sabian. They anticipate a quiet night, but their hopes are shattered when the storm outside forces a prison bus to divert to the precinct. Most of the convicts aboard are of little importance — there’s a lippy meth addict (John Leguizamo — Carlito’s Way, Kick Ass 2), a petty crook (Aisha Hinds) and a small-time counterfeiter (Ja Rule) — but the fourth unexpected guest is a major crime boss named Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne — The Matrix) who brings with him a whole heap of trouble.
It seems that Bishop has been in league with a unit of corrupt cops for more than a decade, but their relationship has soured of late because Bishop rejected a demand from Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne — Ghost Ship), the leader of the cops, that the previously equal share of their illicit earning be redistributed in future, with the lion’s share naturally going to him and his men. Bishop has already survived one murder attempt by Duvall’s boys, and their desire to eliminate him has grown all the more urgent since he came into police custody. Bishop’s enforced incarceration in the defenceless, near deserted and ageing police station which is now nearly cut off from the rest of the world by the storm that’s raging around it, provides the ideal opportunity for Duvall and his men to silence their former partner for good — and they’re not particularly concerned about who else they have to kill in order to succeed in their mission.
Although Richet’s version stays reasonably close to Carpenter’s it has to be said that the Detroit police force don’t exactly come out of Assault on Precinct 13 with much credit. There are only a handful of honest cops in the entire picture, while Duvall has a small army of men at his command, and I couldn’t help wondering at the chances of every man in an entire unit being corrupt. Their operations with Bishop must have been hauling millions every month to keep all those crooked cops happy for so long. You’d think at least some of the attitudes of those criminals who at least have a cockeyed code of honour would have rubbed off on them…
But then, of course, that’s not what Assault on Precinct 13 is all about; despite Richet’s occasional touches of artistic pretension, it’s basically a visceral shoot-‘em-up. It has the most limited of ambitions, which it fulfils with a clinical efficiency. Writer James DeMonaco does throw in a couple of curveballs, some of which are more successful than others: the obligatory viper in the nest came as no surprise, while the unexpected death of a key character provided more of a jolt. Ethan Hawke is an unconventional leading man for an action movie, but he acquits himself well in the part, and keeps us believing that Roenick is constantly operating on the tattered fringes of his nerves, while Laurence Fishburne glides around like a black ghost, the epitome of laid-back cool. He’s one of those villains whose crimes are glossed over for the sake of keeping the audience on his side, so he comes across as more of a lone maverick than — presumably — a drugs baron.
Assault on Precinct 13 isn’t without its faults, and it comes within a whisker of outstaying its welcome, but overall it provides adequate entertainment for those who just want to kick back and dispense with having to think too much about what they’re watching.