Escape from Detroit
By Ben Mk (cinematicallyenigmatic.blogspot.com)
To his fans, Paul Walker will likely best be remembered for the character he played in the Fast & Furious film franchise: police-officer-turned-street-racer Brian O'Conner. Because although Walker starred in his fair share of dramas and comedies, it was his action roles that made the biggest impression on moviegoers. And fittingly enough, his final film — the Luc Besson-scripted Brick Mansions — is exactly that kind of picture. In it, Walker once again steps into the boots of an officer of the law, playing one of Detroit's finest who's tasked with disarming a nuclear warhead before it kills millions.
The story — a remake of the 2005 French actioner, Banlieu 13 — unfolds in 2018 Detroit, where — with shades of Escape from New York — the government has erected a massive wall around a dangerous section of the city known as Brick Mansions. Cordoned off from the rest of the civilian population, and with no law enforcement presence to speak of, crime runs rampant within its slums; and their denizens have taken it upon themselves to govern as they see fit. Some, like criminal kingpin Tremaine Alexander (RZA), have seized the opportunity to build an empire for themselves; while others, like ex-con Lino Dupree (David Belle), try their best to uphold the safety of the neighborhood — even if that means making enemies with dangerous men like Tremaine.
Outside its walls, no police officer dares venture inside Brick Mansions, except for one: Damien Collier (Walker), an undercover cop with an axe to grind. When the powers that be inform him that Tremaine has hijacked an armored vehicle and stolen its payload — a neutron bomb — Damien accepts the mission to locate the weapon and disarm it, eager for the opportunity to settle the score with his nemesis once and for all. But with mere hours until the device detonates, he must rely on Lino — who happens to know Brick Mansions inside and out — to locate Tremaine and the bomb in time. Luckily for Damien, Lino has ample cause for joining the mission, as Tremaine is also holding Lino's girlfriend, Lola (Catalina Denis), captive, in retaliation for his vigilantism.
Just as Banlieue 13 marked the directorial debut of cinematographer Pierre Morel, editor-turned-director Camille Delamarre (who's worked with Besson on Transporter 3, Taken 2 and Lockout) cuts his teeth on Brick Mansions. From bare-fisted brawls to bullet-riddled car chases, Delamarre churns out action sequences that are brisk and well-choreographed, hitting many of the same beats as Morel's original. But Banlieue 13 still ranks as the superior film, thanks to its more inventive (and engaging) action set pieces and grittier tone. In contrast, Brick Mansions has (as Tremaine would say) all the right ingredients — guns, gangs and violence — but Delamarre and Besson opt to emphasize the more cartoonish aspects of the plot — which reach their zenith in a scene where a character hears cartoon birds encircling his head after being concussed with a brick.
Although Brick Mansions won't redefine Walker's legacy, it is a fair representation of his acting prowess, typifying his appeal as both a leading man and an action star. The nature of the material doesn't lend itself to showcasing his true range as a dramatic actor (unlike his part in the Hurricane Katrina drama, Hours), but Walker is a good fit for his role, turning in a performance that echoes his earlier action parts. And his natural rapport with Belle (his on-screen partner in crime) and RZA (whose character is less of an archetypal villain than his Banlieue 13 counterpart) goes a long way in selling the authenticity of their situation, helping their performances to rise above the often ham-fisted dialog and making the trio's interactions one of the highlights of the picture.
Brick Mansions runs, jumps and brawls its way onto Blu-ray with an action-packed A/V presentation. Visually, the film's near-future vision of a dystopian Detroit is depicted by way of cinematographer Christophe Collete's use of abandoned industrial backlots and graffiti-laden urban warzones littered with scrap metal and debris; and the hi-def transfer conveys the griminess of these decaying environments with satisfying clarity. From the rust and peeling paint on walls and surfaces to the chunks of concrete and shards of glass that are sent whizzing through the air when the landscape is riddled with bullets or demolished by vehicles, there's a substantial degree of fine detail present in the image. Colors are also well-saturated and contrast is strong, lending depth to the image; however, black levels can be a tad oppressive at times, resulting in less-than-ideal shadow detail in darker scenes. As for the audio, the disc's engaging Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is filled with the sound of gunfire, explosions and fist fights, which — in conjunction with composers Marc Bell and Trevor Morris' rock-and-hip-hop-infused score — contributes to an immersive aural experience.
VVS' Blu-ray release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as an hour's worth of HD special features. First up is a 13-minute Behind the Scenes featurette comprised of pieces of on-set footage (showing the actors performing stunts, rehearsing and goofing around) edited together without interviews or voice-overs. Next is a 2-minute short called Parkour Fury, which features four members of David Belle's "Parkour Origin" team showing off their fancy footwork and putting up #BRICKMANSIONS posters in various locales around Paris. This is followed by a collection of Beyond the Brick Mansions cast & crew interviews, which clocks in at a hefty 43 minutes and features on-set interviews with Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA and Catalina Denis, where they discuss such topics as their characters, their dynamic with the other members of the cast and crew and what it's like working with director Camille Delamarre. This feature also has an interview with Delamarre, though it's presented in French (and without English subtitles). Lastly, rounding out the bonus features is a 2-minute promo piece entitled On the Set with Paul Walker, which features behind-the-scenes footage of Walker intercut with sound bites from the cast and clips from the film.
As a standalone piece of action cinema, Brick Mansions is certainly a decent — if not brazenly campy — thrill ride. But despite the nearly-identical premise, it doesn't quite reach the same heights — in terms of exhilarating stuntwork and overall B-movie zaniness — as the film on which it's based, Banlieue 13. Still, one can't help but think that fans of the original may want to hold their own double bill showing at home, and in that case, VVS' Blu-ray release doesn't disappoint. With a solid A/V presentation and a fair amount of extras, Brick Mansions packs enough of a one-two punch on Blu-ray to warrant a purchase.
The Film — ★★★
Audio/Visual Fidelity — ★★★★½
Special Features — ★★★
* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on April 24th, 2014.