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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.
Although it’s nowhere near creative as other similarly-plotted teen-dramas out there– see Easy A, Mean Girls, 10 Things I Hate About You – as far as high-school comedies go, The DUFF is expectedly formulaic, but is far from the worst film you’ll see this year.
Loosely based on the novel of the same name – written by the seventeen-year-old Kody Keplinger – the story is centred on Bianca Piper (Whitman); a quirky, socially-awkward and zombie-movie-loving high-school senior who spends most of her time hanging out with her two ‘more attractive’ best-friends, Casey (Santos) and Jess (Samuels).
Known for her laid-back look – which involves a lot of overalls and plaid – and casual approach to life, Bianca is considered somewhat of a loner by her other schoolmates; someone who has learned to turn a deaf ear to all the high-school drama and a girl that pretty much abides to her own set of rules. However, she soon receives the shock of her life when her childhood friend and neighbour, super-hot jock Wesley (Amell), informs her – very nonchalantly – that she is in fact a DUFF; a Designated Ugly Fat Friend who is only used to make her other friends look good in comparison.
Astounded and saddened by his statement, Bianca soon makes a deal with Wesley and asks him to – in exchange for Chemistry tutoring – help her shake of her DUFF image and turn herself into someone who Toby (Eversman) – Bianca’s long-haired and guitar-playing crush – might even consider dating.
Adapted to the screen by Josh A. Cagan, the story embodies a long list of teen-drama tropes and its only the occasional witty and sharp writing that elevates the film above being just another teen movie. Heavy on social media references and pop-culture nods, The DUFF is kept afloat by a well-assembled cast of performers who, apart from a couple of half-baked characters – including Thorne as the evil Queen Bee – manage to keep the film above the standard teen framework. Mae Whitman – remember that adorable little girl who played the President’s daughter in Independence Day? – is all grown-up and delivers the highlight performance; her spot-on comedic timing and sharp wit is a fantastic match for Amell’s surprisingly layered and sincere performance as Wesley.
Yes, The DUFF is a film we’ve all seen a million times before and anyone who has ever sat-through at least one high-school comedy in the past already knows what to expect. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less enjoyable. On the contrary; it’s sweet, easy-going and fun.
Considering its controversial and much talked-about source material, Fifty Shades of Grey – Sam-Taylor Johnson’s adaptation of E.L James’ best-seller – is surprisingly safe, shockingly uninvolved and tediously uninventive for a movie that was supposed to deliver – and show – so, so much more.
The story is centred on a young literature student Anastasia Steele (Johnson) who agrees to step in for her sick roommate, Kate (Mumford), and do the interview with handsome and the mysterious twenty-seven year old billionaire, Christian Grey (Dornan).
The two are quick to connect and it’s pretty clear that both of them are immediately taken by one another; she likes his good-looks and raw aura of masculine intensity and he is intrigued by her innocent beauty and clumsy ways. After being stalked and rescued from a drunken night out Anastasia realises that there is no escape from his peculiar – and intrusive – charms and soon gives into the idea of being seduced by the handsome young tycoon.
Dakota Johnson – the beautiful offspring of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson – is definitely the only success of the entire production. Gutsy, beautiful and surprisingly funny and her innocent-like ways – not to mention her gorgeous baby-blues – and she carries her side of the story relatively well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the handsome Irishman and ex-Calvin Klein underwear model, James Dornan. Physically, he is the perfect casting choice, but his monotonic, almost robotic, delivery is unconvincing and what on paper should be a complex character is never really explored. It’s something that maintains a certain air of mystery, yes, but leaving such little room to explore his motivations isolates the character in a way that doesn’t allow auciences to truly ingest his relationship with Anastasia.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey never really knows what it wants to be and its lack of drive, focus and identity. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script is as hollow and instead of grabbing the story by its horns and allowing it to dip a little further towards the darkness, it ends up taking a more safer-route, ultimately, boring us all in the process.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey loses the drive and identity that made the book one of the most divisive best-sellers of the decade. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script fails to embody the book. Granted, said book shocks much more than it incites reflection, but the film even fails on that.
It was just a question of time before E.L James’ fictional smash-hit found its way to the big-screen; few books have stirred as much controversy in recent times. It’s rare that a film adaptation has the potential to better than the book on which it is based – this was the case here and, while it can be argued that it is indeed better, it’s still a less than satisfying viewing experience.