The Good: Decent acting, Excellent pacing, Good characters
The Bad: Somewhat improbable circumstances, especially on the character front
The Basics: As a police detective and his prisoner flee through New York hunted by corrupt cops bent on preventing the witness from testifying, the viewer becomes more and more engaged.
In traditional warfare, as I've become accustomed to it with playing Risk, there comes a turning point where the aggressor has a significant disadvantage in that the side that goes on the defensive, when bottled up, has the most concentration and power. That is, at a certain point when one has one's enemy virtually surrounded, the problem becomes breaking through their lines because all of their forces are in one place. It's a daunting prospect. From the opening moments of the chase in 16 Blocks, this is a nagging concern on the viewer.
Detective Jack Mosely, a washed-up police detective, is assigned the mundane task of transporting a witness who will make the New York City District Attorney's big anti-cop corruption case. Mosely, half-drunk in the morning, soon finds himself on the run with Eddie, his witness. Mosely and Eddie are being hunted vigorously by a squadron of cops and police detectives who are likely to be indicted if Eddie is allowed to testify before the grand jury. As the clock ticks down for the jury's tenure to expire, Mosely and Eddie must flee through the streets, subways and buildings of New York City for the sixteen blocks from the lock-up to the hall of justice.
The thing is, 16 Blocks is a fairly standard chase movie. Once the attempt is made on Eddie and Jack makes his choice to go up against the corrupt cops that Eddie will implicate, the stakes are all set. From that moment on, Eddie and Jack are running against the clock and running for their lives. And one of the nagging ideas on the back of every viewer who is awake has to be the overall tactic. Frank Nugent, the leader of the corrupt cops who is looking to silence Eddie, knows exactly where Eddie and Jack are headed.
The way the movie escalates and resolves, creates a problem with suspension of disbelief. That is to say that if the plot either had no time limit or if the two were simply fugitives from the law, 16 Blocks would make perfect sense; the police would be motivated to chase them down throughout New York City to bring them to justice. But instead, this movie focuses on two people getting to a specific location. The rules of warfare would seem to indicate that the smartest tactic would be to surround the hall of justice where the grand jury is meeting and prevent the pair from getting in. There's no reason to chase, they know exactly where their prey are headed.
And for the most rational argument, "Well, maybe these police officers don't want to shed blood in the hall of justice," that argument is buggered by the action of the movie. Of course, cinematically, it's much more exciting to chase the pair through the streets and buildings, near subways and on buses. But conceptually, it makes no sense. In fact, in raising the stakes, escalating the action through the streets en route to the hall of justice, so many people become involved as to make suspension of disbelief almost impossible.
In simpler terms, as Jack and Eddie flee, kill in self-defense, take hostages and make the spectacle more and more public, 16 Blocks becomes less credible on a character level for every ancillary character in the movie. Yes, facing indictment is a bad thing. What's worse is losing an entire police force as opposed to only six or ten officers. As elements begin to escalate and characters who are not corrupt - like the police negotiator - continue to enter the story, the reality of the situation begins to become more and more obscured, almost to the point of parody.
What keeps the movie grounded are the three main characters. Frank is clearly fighting for his professional life. As his chase of Jack and Eddie escalates, it is easy to see him losing control of the situation and his views on the simple morality of "the ends justify the means" begins to slip. In representing the villain, we are finally faced with a movie where the adversary is at least as intelligent and resourceful as the protagonist and that is instantly engaging.
Eddie is annoying but consistent. He is a man who believes people can change and while I usually like darker endings to movies, I have to say I preferred the theatrical ending to the alternate ending on the DVD if for no other reason than the dialogue Eddie delivers via voice over is so much more interesting. But Eddie is no saint and the movie does an excellent job of keeping him viable, morally questionable and interesting, even if his near-constant babbling is annoying.
Jack Mosely begins the movie as a character that is very Sipowicz-esque. Watching 16 Blocks is suggestive of NYPD Blue's Andy Sipowicz prior to the series premiere. I suppose that's the strength of the cultural icon that watching 16 Blocks is immediately evocative of that type of aging, half-drunk detective character. Mosely's character, worn down by Eddie throughout the hours of their association, is brilliantly dynamic, though the viewer has to wait for the most telling moments of his character until almost the end of the movie.
What keeps the characters working is the quality of the acting. David Morse is menacing and clever as Frank. Mos Def creates a character who is instantly memorable as Eddie. His ability to deliver a fast-talking lisp is incredible and that it never slips throughout the movie is impressive.
It is Bruce Willis whose character is focused on the most. Despite the somewhat goofy look to him - think 12 Monkeys after he's glued on the mustache - Willis creates a character that is distinct and different from all others he has played. As he limps along, we see no hint of the charisma that made him likable in other roles. He is cold and he has the feeling of being dead inside that is masterfully portrayed and projected.
All in all, 16 Blocks is solid and satisfying even as its premise begins to be warped by the outrageous circumstances of the chase. It's certainly worth a viewing.
For other works with Mos Def, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
For other movie reviews, be sure to check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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