By Malice Intended of Planet Ill
Desperate for cash, Vince (Sam Riley) rushes headlong into a situation that proves to be much more than he bargained for. While working as an electrician, he stumbles upon a money making opportunity that requires him to take on the identity of a recently deceased client. After following a simple set of instructions, he finds himself being forced to participate in what can only be described as the ultimate game of Russian roulette. Other contestants, such as Ronald (Sam Winstone) and Jesse James Jefferson (Mickey Rourke), have entered the contest under equally dubious circumstances. Jasper (Jason Statham) and Jimmy (50 Cent) assure that certain participants honor their obligations. With each round of the games, the pool of contestants shrinks until a single winner emerges.
13 was written and directed by Géla Babluani. It is a remake of his French thriller 13 Tzameti. While not gratuitously violent, its dark and unrelenting tone will make it an endurance test for squeamish viewers. Though Babluani clearly hopes to establish himself in the American marketplace, 13 makes it obvious that he means to do so on his own terms. The movie is a brutal thriller that flaunts shocking twists and violent surprises, none of which are delivered in a conventional or pandering way.
While American films use camerawork and editing to add drama to mundane situations, 13 takes a more restrained and sparing approach. For the most part the camera remains in a relatively fixed position. Though the film was shot on location in New York, it takes very little advantage of the big city ambience, removing the normal visual, aesthetic distractions from the main story. The color palette is drab and stale, suggesting a certain emptiness and moral ambiguity. The sky remains perpetually grey and overcast. It’s a wonder that any plants or trees could grow or thrive in the world shown in 13. That mood translates to that of the characters and the performances as well.
Unfortunately, 50 Cent is featured in a role that requires much stoicism. His character is devoid of any personality or color, with little to no effect on the film itself. Mickey Rourke once again adopts the burned out loser persona that he perfected in The Wrestler. While Jesse James Jefferson is nowhere near as layered or as memorable as that character, the performance is an example of how Rourke manages to be thoroughly fascinating even when he doesn’t appear to be exerting himself much. Jason Statham, sans martial artistry and weaponry, plays an actual human being for a change. He is surprisingly effective at it. Sam Riley’s transition from callow youth to hardened, desperate survivor is believable.
13 is in the grand tradition of tense thrillers that test the audience’s taste for violence by showing the toll it takes on those involved. While it isn’t in the same class as genre classics like Se7en, it demonstrates that Géla Babluani knows how to command an audience’s attention even as he instills it with fear and revulsion. Had he managed to flesh out some of the supporting characters, 13 could have been a true masterpiece of tension building. As it stands, the film feels like something of a technical exercise, albeit a skillful and admirable one. 3.5 out of 5