16 Blocks

A Film Review By The Mike

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse
Directed By: Richard Donner
Rated: PG-13 for Lots of Guns, a Bit of Swearing, and Drunk Foolishness

Final Grade:

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an action movie that’s grounded in its characters. Unlike most action directors, Richard Donner’s made a career of building his action around interesting characters, and his latest film, 16 Blocks, is perhaps the most interesting, real-life, action film he’s made. Considering it’s been nearly a decade since his last good film, and almost two since his heyday, it’s a very welcome surprise.

16 Blocks follows Bruce Willis’ Jack Mosley, a burned-out, alcoholic cop whom we meet at the end of an overnight shift when he’s forced to take on a couple hours of overtime to transport a criminal (Mos Def) to testify. He’s not happy to do so, or happy at all, spitting out comments like “Life’s too long” or “I don’t like birthday cakes” in a constant showing of worn-out depression. But, when the prisoner becomes a target of dirty cops, who’re lead by his ex-partner of 20 years (David Morse), Jack must make a decision between turning his back or facing the truth.

Since this is a movie, it’s not too hard to guess which side of that coin Bruce Willis will choose. But the film succeeds most by playing up the character’s conscience, offering his old friend as a sort-of devil on his right ear while the witness’ constant optimism is like the little angel on his left ear. The best scenes come when either of the side characters are trying to explain why Jack should do what they want him to, highlighted by a mid-film standoff where Morse’s character tries to get Jack to consider who he’s protecting and how much he really knows about him.

Willis’ turn as Mosley is not too different from a lot of his recent roles in films like Hostage or Sin City, and is a far cry from his well-known, Die Hard, persona. He really looks like a drunk, and mopes accordingly, and does so in a manner that’s much more human than we usually see from him. It’s not a ground-breaking move for him, but it’s a nice change.

Def is a hoot as the neurotic witness in transit, complete with an annoying accent and mile-a-minute manner of speech. He doesn’t offer as much comedy as I expected, keeping the film’s tone intact. But he offers up a likeable and watchable character that’s really the heart of the film, which means the star he’s been building should take a good jump.

The least known of the cast is veteran character actor Morse, and he pulls the devilish role off with a sinister charm. After almost 25 years of working in mostly side roles, it’s nice to see him getting a bigger role in a film like this one, where he’s really allowed to play off someone like Willis. As I expected, he pulls it off quite well.

With these three actors offering their parts in the morality based plot, there’s little left that’s needed to make 16 Blocks work for the viewer. It’s well-paced in its semi-real-time structure, and written sharply, with a finale that’s both surprising and adequate considering the moral pickle the characters are put in. It should please the average filmgoer with its stars and action, and even offer a good deal of moral intrigue for the viewer that’s looking for a little more than the standard. Considering the output of the studios so far this year, this is probably the first movie of 2006 that’s a sure-fire Hollywood hit, which is just what we would have expected from Donner and Willis 15 years ago. Good for them.

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