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Friday, October 28, 2011
In THE DEER HUNTER, a game of Russian Roulette proved so overwhelmingly intense that, as I sat watching it in the theater, I wasn't even sure if I'd be able to get through it. Géla Babluani's 13 (2010) gives us an entire movie based on the game but manages only to be moderately entertaining without coming anywhere near that level of tension.
Sam Riley is Vince, an average young guy whose family--mom, dad, and two sisters--has hit rock bottom financially after the father is badly injured. Stumbling across an illicit Russian Roulette tournament involving some very high-stakes betting, Vince manages to take the place of one of the entrants in hopes of surviving to solve his family' money problems. Needless to say, this descent down the rabbit hole will be a nightmare with the spectre of sudden, violent death hovering over him every minute.
Riley gives a restrained but effective performance and makes his character easy to root for. Vince is believably freaked out during the first round while quickly getting more hardened to the game out of necessity. When he makes it to the final round, which we know he will since the opening flash-forward gives it away, he's still reluctant but his initial hesitance has been overcome by sheer desperation.
Technically, 13 is as good as it needs to be but no more, relying on the inherent fascination we derive from seeing a group of men standing in a circle, each with his gun pointed at the head of the man in front of him and then firing on command, with some surviving and others thudding clumsily to the floor. With each round the stakes rise along with the number of bullets in each gun.
Even so, we never really get that caught up in the game itself, and it's the sketchily-drawn characters who provide the most interest. As Jasper, Jason Statham is likable as usual even playing a rat who plucks his brother Ronald Lynn (Ray Winstone) out of a mental hospital to compete in the game. Winstone is an imposing figure, even more so when Ronnie's meds start wearing off and he becomes increasingly hostile both to Vince and to Jasper for using him.
Mickey Rourke is interesting to watch even when he's coasting through a role as he does here, playing a convict named Jefferson who's been whisked out of a Mexican prison and into the competition against his will. Rapper 50 Cent plays Jefferson's handler, Jimmy. Belgian actor Ronald Guttman, whom I recognized as one of the Russian defectors in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, is Vince's sponsor in the game, and David Zayas of "Dexter" is a police detective trying to put an end to it.
Film and TV veteran Ben Gazzara is a welcome presence as Schlondorff, sponsor to his own nerve-frazzled entrant. In the small role of Vince's handler, Jack, Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård manages to convey an unspoken sympathy for Vince that makes his character more tolerable. Michael Shannon (airplane mechanic "Gooz" in PEARL HARBOR) plays the role of coldblooded game ringmaster Henry with particular relish, harshly barking out commands such as "Spin the cylinder!" and "Cock the hammer!" Gaby Hoffman, who was little "Maisy" in UNCLE BUCK, is all grown up now and plays Vince's sister Clara in a brief role.
Ray Winstone's menacing character becomes the focal point in the game's final stages and gives 13 its most gripping scenes. After the game, however, the film wanders down a pretty predictable path and finally comes to a stop after failing to find anything interesting to do with itself save for a mild attempt at some kind of irony. Director Babluani and his co-scripter Gregory Pruss really needed to throw a few more ideas around before settling for this acutely unremarkable ending.
The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. There are no extras.
In other hands, 13 might've been a really riveting nailbiter. As it is, it's a nifty little suspense yarn that doesn't quite make you feel like you've gotten your money's worth when it's over.
Buy it at Amazon.com: