ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005). Very solid action thriller

This is solid action cinema…

Krzysztof Walecki

17 January 2024

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005). Very solid action thriller

… dynamic, well-played, utilizing changes in scenery, engaging, yet still standing a class below Carpenter’s work. And that’s it.

The trend of remaking old horror films, especially those from the 70s, continues. So, if George A. Romero (the guy with the zombies) and Tobe Hooper (created Leatherface) are being remembered, maybe it’s time to do the same with John Carpenter, who, over the past 30 years, has also made his mark in the horror genre.  However, let’s focus on Assault on Precinct 13, which, by definition, is not a horror, although it contains certain elements associated with the genre.

Assault on Precinct 13 2005 Ethan Hawke Laurence Fishburne Gabriel Byrne

In terms of content, both films are similar, but a few changes have been introduced, making the new version as enjoyable as the original. In essence, it revolves around a group of people trapped in a closing Precinct 13, who must fend off attacks by heavily armed unidentified criminals throughout the night, simply because they hate cops. In Carpenter’s version, the reason for the attack is irrelevant – just some bad people who won’t rest until the precinct is leveled to the ground, and everyone inside is wiped out. And if that’s not enough, the cops, to survive, must trust the locked-up criminals, who also value their lives and are targets for the attackers waiting nearby. That’s how it looked in the 70s version. And how does the situation play out in the French, debutant director Jean-François Richet‘s version? Very similarly, with one exception. The are still trapped cops and the incarcerated criminals, but the attackers of Assault on Precinct 13 have turned into ruthless police officers, and the motive behind their actions is quite significant. Namely, on the titular Precinct 13, which, like in the original, is being shut down, a dangerous murderer, Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne, occasionally still unable to shake off his Morpheus mannerism), is being held. If he makes it to trial, he will expose his accomplice, who is Marcus Duvall (wasted Gabriel Byrne) – a respected cop, head of the special unit. Therefore, Duvall, along with all the ‘dirty’ cops, decides not to let that happen and organizes a siege on the unprepared building with the ‘good’ law enforcers gathered there.

Assault on Precinct 13 2005 Laurence Fishburne Drea de Matteo

Richet’s Assault on Precinct 13, unlike Carpenter’s film, takes on a more personal dimension thanks to well-drawn characters inside – from the ‘burnt-out’ sergeant Jake Roenick (very good Ethan Hawke) to the seemingly self-assured Dr. Sabian (Maria Bello) and ending with a strange assortment of thugs (including Ja Rule and John Leguizamo). It’s also worth noting the clear time placement – the film’s action takes place on the night from December 31 to January 1, allowing for a snowy landscape. And that blood on the snow looks exceptionally good. The action unfolds swiftly, with lots of shootouts, unconventional, even crazy ideas for survival, and on top of that, the film is exceptionally ‘strong’; the filmmakers did not hesitate to show even executions – kudos to them for this realism. On the downside, there is a lack of tension between the two main characters – Roenick and Bishop, as in the original. The uncertainty accompanying Bishop’s every move, making him another likable bad guy, has vanished. The 1976 version was also characterized by the atmosphere and staging reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead – I mean the dehumanization of the villains. They don’t have names, their faces or clothing are barely visible, they are just silhouettes, dark, moving shapes, appearing on the screen relatively rarely but making their presence felt every minute. By turning them into cops, Richet gave them a reason but took away their almost horror-like lineage. It’s also a pity that Carpenter’s excellent musical theme wasn’t left intact. Graeme Revell’s music is good, suitable for such a film, but it doesn’t stand out in any particular way and doesn’t stick in memory like the original. The ending also leaves some dissatisfaction, although a good move was taking the action outdoors and concluding the whole story outside the precinct. Besides, I like films where at least part takes place in a snowy forest at night.

Assault on Precinct 13 2005 Laurence Fishburne Drea de Matteo

Personally, I really like remakes that, even in part, try to surprise the viewer with something original and innovative, rather than blindly imitating the original and reproducing even the dialogues. Assault on Precinct 13 from 2005 fortunately belongs to films made with an idea, defending itself not only with special effects or advanced technology (by the way, I didn’t notice any computer effects in Richet’s work). It is solid action cinema: dynamic, well-played, utilizing changes in scenery, engaging, yet still standing a class below Carpenter’s work. And that’s it.