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Friday, April 26, 2013

PAWN -- Blu-Ray review by porfle

I guess DOG DAY AFTERNOON would be the king of all hostage crisis flicks that came before or since, at least to those who can't remember as far back as THE PETRIFIED FOREST and a pre-stardom Humphrey Bogart terrorizing a bunch of innocent people in a remote diner. Blazing its way into this often nail-biting genre comes an entry that isn't quite as good as those two classics but definitely holds its own--the riveting action drama PAWN (2013).

The story begins with weary cop Will (Forest Whitaker) entering a late-night diner for a cup of coffee and noticing that everyone in it is acting funny. We pretty much know what's going on even before we see Michael Chiklis as ruthless bad guy Derrick hiding under the counter with a sawed-off shotgun pointed at the very nervous Charlie (Stephen Lang, TOMBSTONE, MANHUNTER), who can barely pour that cup of coffee for the increasingly suspicious cop.

We know that all hell is going to break loose any second, which it does with a lot of gunfire, blood, and sheer panic. What we don't know is that what appears to be a simple interrupted robbery at first is actually just the tip of an iceberg that includes dirty cops covering their tracks, a mysterious crime boss passing himself off as a harmless hostage, trigger-happy thugs with a deadly agenda, and a safe containing the film's McGuffin--a hard-drive with some damning information that certain people will do anything to keep from being exposed.

I'm loathe to give away any more because most of the fun of watching PAWN is the constant stream of surprises. Just when you think you've figured out how it's going to go there's a neat plot twist that puts a new spin on everything, or the sudden death of a major character whom we assumed would be around for most of the movie. The introduction of a police negotiator played by rapper Common has us expecting the usual hostage exchange demands and whatnot, but even that (overly) familiar situation soon flies apart in a hail of gunfire as a series of skillfully cross-edited storylines keep the suspense steadily increasing.

Directed by cinematographer David A. Armstrong (the SAW series, SAM'S LAKE), the film boasts good old-fashioned solid camerawork rather than a bunch of shaky-cam and confetti editing to make it visually interesting. Likewise, the cast is outstanding with burly Chiklis a terrific, violence-prone villian brimming with sarcastic one-liners in an accent that sounds like he stole it from Jason Statham at gunpoint. There's the always-great Forest Whitaker and Stephen Lang (the latter now gracefully entering geezerdom) and, as the scary "Man in a Suit" whose motives are unclear yet definitely not good, there's Ray Liotta back in queasy-creepy mode where he belongs.

The heart of the story involves the character of Nick (Sean Faris of FREERUNNER and GHOST MACHINE), just released from prison that day and now caught up in the hostage crisis with the cops thinking he's behind it all. Nikki Reed plays his pregnant wife Amanda, who is kidnapped and threatened by Liotta's character. (Interestingly, Reed and Whitaker recently appeared together in yet another hostage-crisis-in-diner thriller, CATCH .44.) Faris makes a good, believable hero and his final confrontation with Chiklis gives the film a satisfactory payoff which--along with some really cool closing credits--makes up for a rather bland ending.

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. The bonus feature is a making-of short, "Pawn: Behind the Scenes."

PAWN starts out with an instantly tense, suspenseful situation and just keeps getting better and better. It may not be the best movie of its kind you ever saw, but it definitely knows how to entertain.

Buy it at

Blu-Ray/DVD combo



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