Friday, January 11, 2013

Film Friday: 13 (2010)

I’m going to recommend a movie to you, but I’m not completely sure why -- I’m not even sure I enjoyed it. The movie is 13 and I’m recommending this film because it feels unique. In the modern world of highly-packed films with formulaic plots, this is not that. This is no smooth Hollywood production. It’s not clever. It’s not pretty. What it is though, is interesting.

** heavy spoiler alert **

Note the spoiler warning. This film isn’t full of twists and it’s not packed with surprises, but it’s one of those films where the drama is best when you learn what is happening as you watch.

13 is a remake of the French film 13 Tzameti and it has quite a cast. It stars unknown Sam Riley as Vincent, an electrician from Ohio. He learns that a man who has just died had some sort of high paying job he was to perform. Vincent decides to take this man’s place and hopes they let him do the job instead, whatever it is. Others in the cast include Alexander Skarsgard, who becomes Vincent’s contact, Ben Gazzara, Ray Winstone, Mickey Rourke, who was recently broken out of a Mexican jail, 50 Cent, who can’t act to save his life, Michael Shannon, who defines overacting in this film, and Jason Statham who becomes the antagonist.
As the story progresses, Vincent is given a train ticket which he uses to head north. He’s being followed by the police and is told to evade them. Then he’s picked up and taken to an old, abandoned mansion, where a contest is to be held. The contest involves a form of Russian Roulette, where the competitors stand in a circle and fire on the person before them as rich people bet on them. This contest combines the random element of not knowing if the gun is loaded along with a speed element as anyone shot cannot discharge their own weapon.

This is an interesting film on many levels. In some ways, I hate it. It’s an ugly film. It feels like it’s shot on low grade film stock. It’s dark. The actors are all kind of ugly. The setting is nasty, it’s not anywhere you would have a picnic. The story is really dark too, and keeps getting darker. These things make the film unpleasant, but they also work in that they make the film much more real than most modern movies. Even the unreal idea of organizing something like this contest is easy to accept since this is done in a dank old mansion with ugly people rather than some ritzy studio set. Indeed, throughout, the film has a quality to it which makes you believe this is really happening, something you never get in the glossy films Hollywood normally makes.
I’m also not sure I like the acting. It’s either horrifically bad or strangely brilliant. Again, it’s hard to tell. Riley can’t maintain his accent and periodically fails to sound American. Mickey Rourke is a walking cliche of Mickey Rourke on film. 50 Cent looks scared of the camera. Michael Shannon is clearly trying to get noticed so he gets more roles. Ben Gazzara, well, he's very likeable, but you get the feeling he died three days before filming began. The only actors who really prove to be competent are Statham, Winstone and Skarsgard. Yet, somehow, the acting works. Each of these characters stands out in a way which the writing itself doesn’t merit.

The other thing that’s interesting about this film is the simplicity of the plot. These days, films like this are typically made to be so hip and stylized that you expect double-crosses and triple-crosses and some amazing reveal at the end where you realize the whole thing was a quadruple-cross from the get go. But this film doesn’t do that. This film moves from scene to scene with a strange sort of simplicity and that makes the story stronger. Now, that’s not to say the film is predictable. To the contrary, you never really know what will happen next because the film keeps throwing unexpected things at you. These aren’t big things, they are things like a player asking for a chair or a player having a problem loading a gun, but they are enough to keep you from ever feeling like the plot just moves smoothly to preordained points. Instead, it feels like the film is being made up minute by minute and that adds a real sense of unpredictability to a movie even though the story itself is very predictable.
I think there are several lessons here. For one thing, realism can sell even an unreal movie provided all of its pieces feel real. The moment you start adding glitz, the unreality gets highlighted, but so long as you stay true to the more gritty way reality is, the more believable the film will feel. Secondly, this film shows how much minor disruptions, like a player asking for a chair or a janitor picking up garbage, can help make a film feel more real. These aren’t moments that you would consider “plot points,” but they injected moments of the unexpected into the film which made a predictable plot feel unpredictable.

As I said, this is a fascinating film because none of the elements are very good -- the visuals, the acting, the writing, the plot... all second tier. But all together, they seem to rise above their defects and create a movie that is compelling, even if it wasn’t a movie I liked per se. I recommend giving this one a try.


Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I've actually heard of this one though I've never seen it. I believe it went direct to video, at least in this country, and your review brings to mind this recent trend of direct-to-video movies (mostly in the action genre) that feature big stars.

I always wonder, where did these come from? Who financed them? And why is 50 Cent in all of them? :-)

Exhibit A

Exhibit B


And your comment about simplcity is spot-on, and something I hinted at in my Executive Decision review: an interesting story well told. No double- or triple-crosses, no kid in distress... in other words, "Just the facts, Ma'am."

(P.S. I think you still need to post my next two reviews. Again, if they can post before the middle of next month, that'd be great.) :-D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for the reminder. I've been kind of busy.

I there is a lot to the idea of a simple story well told as compared to trying to trick the audience into thinking a story is more than it is by including double and triple-crosses. I've seen too many action/suspense films lately that offer nothing but the twist and they seem to think that's enough to excite the audience... it's not.

I don't know if this one went direct to video or not. I remember hearing about it briefly but never seen it. I caught it a few months ago for the first time on HBO.

As for 50 Cent, I have no idea, but he's awful. I think they could have ordered a pizza and the pizza guy would have been better in the role -- even in uniform!

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

No worries!

And I agree with you. I think some screenwriters simply think that whatever story they have isn't good enough or isn't as big as the next guy's script so they include one last minute double-cross or hint at some larger conspiracy which never pays off.

It's a thin line between efficiency and taking advantage of everything your story has to offer. Twists, double-crosses, etc. are fine as long as they're organic - otherwise, the hell with 'em.

P.S. I know you don't care but the Oscar nominations were today. Looks like the year of Lincoln... with the biggest snubs being Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director and absolutely nothing for The Dark Knight Rises.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the twist has become a writing crutch because it's really easy to inject a twist at the end and most people will believe they saw it coming. And in an age where Hollywood seems to think "jam as much crap into a film as possible and hope some of it resonates," it's kind of refreshing to see a film played very straight.

Now I'm not saying that nothing happens, but there are no Usual Suspects reveals here -- you see everything happen as it happens. And this was indeed a film which held my interest and got me to stop looking at my computer or answering my phone until I was finished.

Yeah, I don't care about the Oscars. In fact, I find those to be utterly meaningless.

Tennessee Jed said...

who could not be interested in a film that defies logic in terms of a recommendation. and, i wouldn't worry about the poor fim stock. in the end, at least for me, interesting trumps all else.

tryanmax said...

I'm going to heed your spoiler warning and try to find this movie over the weekend.

rlaWTX said...

mmmm a Jason Statham movie - Andrew DOES like me! :)
I have heard of it - haven't seen it, so I skimmed your review. I'll have to look it up.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, It's not fully a Statham film, though he is a main character, but he does an excellent job. :)

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Let me know what you think. I'm curious for some second opinions. As I mention above, this is one of those that I really dislike in a lot of ways, but I find compelling.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This is an odd one. On the one hand, there's a lot I really don't like about the film and I don't know that I actually "enjoyed it", but I've watched it three times now and each time it pulls me in. Let me know your opinion when you see it. I'll be curious to see if you have the same reaction.

T-Rav said...

To be honest, this sounds like the kind of movie I would only watch if it was on cable TV, and even then only halfway through. Honestly, from your description and the poster, it just screams "Straight to DVD!"

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, This is not a high production value film, not by any means. And like I say, there are a lot of aspects of it that I just don't like. But strangely it works. It made me want to keep watching, which is getting to be a pretty rare thing in films these days.

ellenB said...

Believe it or not, I saw this one night. I saw Jason Statham, who I like a lot, and I decided to watch the rest. I agree with you Andrew, this was an oddly compelling film. I don't think I like it, but I watched it and thought about it later.

AndrewPrice said...

Ellen, I had the same reaction. I watched it because I'd never heard of it, but I recognized Statham, and it was just oddly compelling and I've thought about it after the fact as well, though I don't really know why.

Anthony said...

50 Cent is the world's worst actor (lots of rappers can act, he isn't one of them) but he pops up in so many low budget films despite having demonstrated neither talent nor ability to draw eyeballs that I suspect he is actually paying directors to place him in their movies.

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I wouldn't doubt it in this case. He's just horrid. He stares blankly at the camera, his timing is horrible, and he shows no sense of actually interacting with the other actors. He doesn't ruin the movie, but it would have helped if they'd cast anyone else in his role.

tryanmax said...

What luck! Redbox only has one copy in my city, but it's pretty close to my office! I'll be checking in tomorrow.

AndrewPrice said...

Excellent! Make sure you let us know what you thought. I seem to be the only person who's seen this film. :(

tryanmax said...

Well, that was very...visceral. I'm not going to watch it a second, let alone a third, time. But it is as you say, very believable, compelling, and surprising and much, much more than the sum of its parts. The thing I kept noticing is how all the actors kept their shoulders rounded at all times.

Also, 13 reminded me a lot of The Experiment, another D2V release with big names (Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker). Have you seen it?

AndrewPrice said...

No, I haven't seen The Experiment. Any good?

Visceral is a good word for 13. It's a strange movie to me precisely because I didn't like it, but it was really compelling and I absolutely wanted to see where the film went. The only other films I've found like that are Kubrick films.

I also found the film surprisingly unpredictable, though in hindsight it really wasn't. But there were things like them letting Mickie Rorke go which I just didn't expect and then what Statham did at the end was unexpected.

Odd movie, isn't it?

tryanmax said...

Any good? -- LOL! I just compared it to this movie, didn't I? I'd have to say it got the same reaction from me. A lot of the same descriptors fit: gritty surrealism, unpredictably predictable, uneven performances. It's definitely worth watching once. I picked it for Forest Whitaker, who gets to play against type in this one.

AndrewPrice said...

That's a great description of this film: gritty surrealism, unpredictably predictable, uneven performances.

It really easy to see why this film didn't find an audience, but having watched it I'm glad I did. It's one of the more impactful films I've seen this year.

I'll check out The Experiment. :)

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