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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.
Like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler before her, Amy Schumer is the in comedienne in Hollywood right now and her first major role couldn’t have come under the conductorship of a better person; Judd Apatow. The man who had a hand in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Anchorman is comedy royalty in Hollywood and, as a director, has a knack for bringing out the best in his actors with his very character-driven comedies and does exactly that with Schumer, giving her a perfect platform to introduce herself to the world.
There isn’t exactly much that you could call innovative with the plot of Trainwreck and so all of its enjoyment is owed to the actors themselves. The story follows Schumer’s character, also named Amy, and her toil and trouble in the game of love. Barely functioning as an active member of society, Amy drinks to get drunk, smokes to get high and jumps in bed with strange men to forget – all that despite being in a relationship with a gym-rat ably played by WWE wrestler and occasional actor, John Cena.
Through her work with a magazine, she comes to meet a sports doctor, Aaron Conners (Hader), and end up falling for each other, with the only potential obstacle standing in the way of a future together being Amy’s fear of commitment.
Again, there’s not a lot about the plot that will blow you away; two lovers-to-be come to fall for each other in unlikely circumstances, an event brings to light a problem with one or more of them which builds a barrier between them, before one of them has the courage to make a compromise and they live happily ever after. It’s the basic template that all romantically infused films are based on and there’s no getting away from it, especially when thrown in a hotpot with comedy.
But it’s Schumer and her supporting cast – as well as that Judd Apatow touch – that keep the viewer engaged in what is otherwise a pedestrian story. The humour is sharp and witty, but, most importantly, the characters are very relatable, with the script not falling back on clichés. The viewer isn’t expected to see the characters through rose-tinted shades; it doesn’t boil down people to good or bad; they’re just human.
More important than all that, however, is that Trainwreck is funny, ridiculous, but at times endearing – a perfect recipe for a rom-com.
British director, Guy Ritchie, is somewhat of a divisive character in the world of cinema; the former Mr Madonna stirred British film with his first two features, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, but his filmography from then on reads like a lexicon of poorly realised visions (he had Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law and Mark Strong to play with in Sherlock Holmes, yet still made a mess of it), the latest of which comes in the form of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Based on the 60s TV show of the same name, some of Hollywood’s top male leads were rumoured to be in the running for the role of the brilliantly named Napolean Solo – think Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, Jon Hamm – before this generation’s Superman, Henry Cavill, was cast – and it’s not a bad choice.
While many have used words like ‘wooden’ and ‘uncharismatic’ to adjudge the 32 year-old Brit’s portrayal of Superman, the man who many are predicting will take the 007 mantle from Daniel Craig fits the Guy Ritchie aesthetic and you’ll find yourself rooting for him as he teams up with a KGB officer played by Arnie Hammer to stop a Nazi nuclear threat that looms over both the US and Russia in the early 60s.
As with so many of Ritchie’s films, the style shadows the substance, but the director’s distinctive aesthetic shines and carries the film through some enjoyable action set-pieces. There’s a pleasing marriage of humour, kitsch and basic action that Ritchie has come to perfect and while The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pales in comparison to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch whose success was owed partly to its satirical take on the British underworld, you won’t get bored, even if it is in fact the sets, the costumes and the more than photogenic cast that keep you engaged.
At the end of the day, however, you can’t get away from the fact that the film doesn’t exactly avoid spy-film clichés; the basic story – two opposing spies team-up to fight a mysterious enemy with unclear motives – proves as such and the film as whole doesn’t stand-up to second viewing – fool me once, et al.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is Ritchie’s first film in almost four years and if he is ever to be considered an auteur, which his initial rise promised, he needs to do something spectacular and soon.