Warner Bros. // 2006 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Mitchell Hattaway (Retired) // December 21st, 2006
For a New York cop and his witness, the distance between life and death just got very short.
Welcome back, Mr. Donner. We missed you.
Detective Jack Moseley (Bruce Willis, Hostage) is coming off a long shift of sitting on his ass and getting drunk. He's headed home when his boss orders him to transport a witness sixteen blocks to the courthouse. Jack tosses the witness, a motor-mouth crook named Eddie Bunker (Mos Def, The Italian Job ), into a squad car and heads downtown. Passing by his favorite liquor store, Jack leaves Eddie in the car and goes in to grab a bottle. He returns to find an assassin about to put a round in Eddie's head. Jack saves Eddie's life, then ducks into a local bar and calls for help. Frank Nugent (David Morse, The Negotiator), Jack's former partner, shows up and informs Jack that Eddie is set to testify before a grand jury in a case involving a ring of crooked cops. Frank and his cronies plan to quickly and quietly dispose of Eddie, but Jack grabs his new charge and bolts. With half of New York's worst trying to stop them, Jack and Eddie make a desperate dash for the courthouse.
16 Blocks is arguably the best movie Richard Donner has directed since 1989's Lethal Weapon 2. Of course, I don't think there would any reason to argue that point, given that Donner hasn't directed a good movie since 1989's Lethal Weapon 2. Anyway, after coasting for the past seventeen years, Donner has finally made a return to form. Yes, the plot of 16 Blocks requires the usual suspension of disbelief, but the movie's shortcomings are overcome by Donner's professionalism and the dynamic performances of its three leads. It's not quite a great movie, but it is a very satisfying one.
As strange as it sounds, 16 Blocks plays like some weird hybrid of Donner's maddeningly uneven Conspiracy Theory and his unsung 1980 feature Inside Moves (the film he directed after being unceremoniously fired from Superman II). This movie is as much about character as it is about action, if not more so. It's pretty much your standard story of redemption, and it's not hard to tell exactly where the plot is headed, but the thrills are counterbalanced and accentuated by character moments and bits of dialogue that probe and reveal the psyches of Jack and Eddie. Take a look at Jack's reaction to having shot Eddie's attempted assassin; no one more surprised than he is that he actually reacted in such a manner. Then there's the scene in the elderly Asian gentleman's apartment. Eddie (no word yet on whether or not his name is an homage to the guy from Reservoir Dogs, but considering arc of the character, I'd guess it is) uses one word to describe Jack that reveals pretty much all you need to know about Eddie's past; this one word also completely changes the dynamic of their relationship and sets up (and adds just enough credibility to) the story's eventual turning point.
No one has ever accused Donner of being a stylish filmmaker; his career path has been that of a journeyman who has built up a particular set of cinematic tools through the simple act of working and honing his skills (imagine that). He's been at this for nearly half a decade now (he made this movie at the age of 75), and, from a visual standpoint, 16 Blocks is something of a departure for him. The cinematography in the majority of his previous films had been bright, slick and sharp-edged, but here he and cinematographer Glen MacPherson (who previously had nothing on his resume to suggest he'd be qualified for this sort of endeavor) opt for a look that is gritty and a bit on the cold side. I also think there's more handheld camerawork here than in the rest of Donner's canon put together. I have to admit that I was a bit taken aback by this at first, but these choices do lend an immediacy to the proceedings that perfectly suits the story. (Donner and MacPherson also do a good job concealing the fact that much of the movie was actually shot in Canada.)
Donner hasn't lost his hand at staging action. (I know in the past he's given a lot of credit to his various Second Unit teams, but there's been too much consistency in his work to spread the praise around to too great a degree.) The shootouts are handled with ease, and the sequence on the bus works very well. (Despite the fact that the movie's advertising played up this sequence, a move that caused many to think this was an unofficial remake of Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet, the scenes on the bus actually don't take up much screen time.) That being said, I was a bit dismayed to discover that Donner wasn't able to work in one of his patented helicopter-appearing-out-of-nowhere bits.
The transfer perfectly captures the look of the movie. The muted colors are spot-on, detail is superb, blacks are deep, and shadow detail is excellent. Dialogue drives much of the film, and the soundtrack handles it smoothly. Surround action is well integrated, and bass response is tight and deep.
Extras include deleted/alternate scenes with video commentary by Donner and writer Richard Wenk (unfortunately, there is no way to watch these scenes without the commentary), a misguided alternate ending (misguided not only because it is rather nonsensical, but also because it would have excised the obligatory Steve Kahan role), and the movie's theatrical trailer.
What the hell was Barry White going to do with all of those tires?
Review content copyright © 2006 Mitchell Hattaway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Ending
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes with Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site