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13: Ensemble Thriller Lacks Consistency
A desperate and naive young man named Vince (Riley) unwittingly assumes another man's identity only to be sucked into an underground world full of violence and money. Unaware of the consequences, Vince is quickly involved in a gambling ring like no other that he unwillingly becomes a huge part of. The only way out alive is to participate in a series of deadly Russian roulette games.
The idea of betting your life on a game where a gun is aimed at the back of your head is quite intense to say the least. But when the whole story of the film rotates around this concept alone, it actually becomes quite tedious. This remake of French film 13 Tzameti (2005) wavers from the intense to the dull quite consistently.
The storytelling develops nicely though, as we are dragged along with Vince as he is wrongfully mistaken for the assumed character, who he only paraded to be for a chance of making a quick buck. As he gets deeper and deeper into the game, he can't back out or quit, as the consequences of revealing himself could be just as deadly.
Though Riley turned in an acclaimed performance as Joy Division’s front-man Ian Curtis in biopic Control (2007), he is still relatively unknown, but as the lead he does a fine job in pulling you into his intense predicament. The all-action Statham is passable as one of the gamblers, but it’s the first time in a while we haven’t seen him knocking heads together, and he has to fall back on his acting ability alone. Rourke and Winstone are both simultaneously charismatic and brutal as always, while 50 Cent’s performance is over the top to say the least.
Georgian filmmaker Géla Babluani actually wrote and directed the original and the fact that he himself directed the American remake should have been a good omen. Unfortunately, Babluani has consciously made several changes to avoid simply reshooting the same film. It’s a no win situation; adapted screenplays are often criticised for not staying true to their source materials, but at the same time, they can be distorted by an unflinching loyalty.
In conclusion, 13 is a passable thriller, which seems to have lost much of the character that made the original film so popular. Hollywood has often sought to recreate European and Asian films in order to recreate their success. Very few succeed and unfortunately 13 doesn’t join that elite selection; it just doesn't come together as the exciting ensemble piece it could have been.
With films like Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight finding unbridled box office success, adult feature film adaptations have, to some extent begun, to reach saturation and the latest proves exactly that.
The Maze Runner builds on a genuinely intriguing dystopian setting that fails to offer anything new to the genre as a film, despites the interesting premise of James Dashner’s 2009 book.
Directed by first-time filmmaker, Wes Ball, the story follows Thomas (O’Brien); a young man who finds himself waking up with amnesia and surrounded by an army of equally curious young men. He soon learns that he has woken up in the Glade; a sprawling savannah that is towered off by high – and maze-like – concrete walls.
Just like Thomas, the boys, led by Alby (Ameen) – who has been stuck in the Glade for the past three years – are unable to recall who they are and how they got there. The increasing number of new arrivals eventually led the confused boys to build a functioning mini-society of sorts, that depends on ‘runners’ – the fittest, fastest and most agile of the group – to race into the maze each day and look for a way out. The task is made all the more daunting by the fact that the gates that guard the maze close buy sundown and no one dares imagine what could happen to anyone who gets stuck there with the large monsters known as Grievers who patrol the maze at night.
Thomas initially has a hard time believing the myth, but realises the severity of the situation when one of the boys’ life is put into danger. The group is soon thrown into complete chaos when the first girl to arrive at the Glade, Teresa (Scodelario), shows up with a threatening message, making the boys realise that they can no longer wait for a miracle but, that they themselves must find a way to escape – and fast.
The Maze Runner marks the first and the opening chapter of a planned three-part series that once again sees a group of teenagers fighting for their lives against a mysterious and much superior force. To its credit, though, the story is fairly engaging, as the plot builds on a similar premise to William Golding’s 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies.
The film succeeds in projecting a deliciously claustrophobic tone and the characters are likeable, while even the action is pretty solid throughout.
However, the film plays out like an intro to the series and those who haven’t read the book might feel a little cheated by the fact that the character of Thomas is never really explored and short-changed by the abrupt - and calculated - finale.
Overall, The Maze Runner is a decent, if unremarkable, first chapter to the series and now the pressure is really on for the second.
Liam Neeson’s ‘special set of skills’ are once again put to good use in Scott Frank’s latest neo-noir thriller, A Walk Among the Tombstones; a dark and a gritty spy-thriller that takes a rather a brutal approach to the notions of revenge and redemption.
Set in 1991, the story – adapted from the pages of Lawrence Block’s popular series of novels of the same name – centres on Matt Scudder (Neeson); an ex-cop turned unlicensed investigator, whose love for booze has forced him to retire early and join an alcoholic anonymous support group.
During one of their regular meetings, Scudder is approached by fellow alcoholic, Peter Kristo (Holbrook), who informs him that his drug-trafficking brother, Kenny Kristo (Stevens), requires his services. After being summoned to Kenny’s lavish home, it’s revealed that Kenny’s wife was kidnapped and, despite paying the hefty ransom, was killed and returned to him in pieces.
Scudder befriends a homeless but seemingly intelligent boy, TJ (Bradley), while conducting research and, despite his young age, becomes a close friend and an informal assistant. The road to revenge soon leads them to creepy cemetery groundskeeper, James Loogan (Olafsson), and Scudder, whose past still haunts him, soon learns that there’s more at play than just a kidnapping.
Directed and adapted to the screen by Scott Frank, A Walk Among the Tombstones doesn’t exactly fall in line with Liam Neeson’s recent filmography and those expecting more of the bravado in Taken, might be a little disappointed. This is a slow-burning picture which requires a certain amount of stomach – thanks to its graphic violence – and staying power due to its longwinded and lengthy plot. The cinematography paints the New York setting in tones of grey which contributes to an engaging overall sinister tone.
Neeson carries the story like a true Hollywood pro as the enigmatic lead and he comes across as unbending, kind and utterly ruthless all at the same time. Unfortunately, the villains – played by Harbour and Thompson – are a little cartoonish, while Olafsson’s character deserved a little bit more screen-time.
Taking everything into account, A Walk Among the Tombstones is a solid film that owes most, if not all, of its charisma, so to speak, to Mr Neeson.