Judge David Johnson is a pawn...and he likes prawn.
Every move is a game changer.
Pawn. What it is not: a twist-heavy action drama. What it is: a tight, well-executed crime thriller, light on surprises but entertaining.
In a small city diner, a group of armed thugs bust in demanding access to a back-room safe. The crew is led by a bald-headed bad-ass (Michael Chiklis, The Shield) who immediately asserts his control over the situation using violence and profanity-laden diatribes delivered in a British accent. Obviously, this would cow anyone, especially jittery hostages held at gunpoint.
But there's more to the robbery besides some scumbags hankering for some easy cash. The villains are at this particular diner for a reason, and their purposes reaches far up two food chains, both criminal and non-criminal. Caught in the middle is a young ex-con, recently released from prison, hoping to start over with his pregnant wife and get his grand theft auto days behind him. Before the night is out, he'll be pressed into a major role of the plot's denouement, which will include betrayals, revelations and gunfire.
Though not too many revelations. Despite the implications of the discs' marketing, Pawn plays it fairly straight, wisely eschewing an over-reliance on plot twists, opting instead to tell a simple crime story—albeit with some pizzazz on the style front.
What's cool about Pawn is the inventiveness director David A. Armstrong employs to tell his story. The narrative jumps to different times and perspectives, with the diner hold-up remaining the story anchor throughout. Everything flows from this one crazy night and to keep the pacing taut, Armstrong makes excellent use of point-of-view and flashbacks. I know it might sound a bit gimmicky, but the implementation works and makes for a better film overall.
Essentially, Pawn is a hostage movie. The standoff lies at the center of the production. Why the bad guys are there is the central mystery. There are machinations at work, but the motives aren't terribly exotic. How they're unfurled provides Pawn the juice to keep things rolling.
Acting is good all-around and there are a lot of recognizable faces: Forest Whitaker, Common, Sean Faris, Stephen Lang, Ray Liotta and, of course Chiklis. Of that impressive crew, Common and Chiklis stand out. I've seen Common in a few things, but I found him most engaging in his role here as a hostage negotiator. It's not overly colorful, but it requires presence and the guy has it. He should get to do more stuff. Chiklis gets the game-ball, mainly because he has the most screen time, gets to chew the most scenery and doe sit all with a serviceable British accent. Not bad for a Masshole.
Good Blu-ray, starting with a sharp 2.40:1, 1080p transfer and aided by a clean Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. Only one extra: a behind-the-scenes featurette.
I'll cap my review here, by saying there are enough modest surprises to compel me not to delve any further. The biggest surprise of them all? This under-the-radar thriller is actually pretty good and worth a look.
Not Guilty. Check and mate.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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