Pawn [Blu-Ray] David A. Armstrong

Pawn [Blu-Ray] David A. Armstrong
5
For a first-time director, David A. Armstrong does an admirable job of clearly and deliberately parsing out the narrative of a crime thriller that plays a fair amount of temporal hopscotch. With a steady hand and careful eye, he guides a cast of reliable veterans, including Michael Chiklis, Stephen Lang, Forest Whitaker and Ray Liotta, and inconsistent younger actors, most notably Nikki Reed, and, for reasons unknown, rap artist Common, through a rapidly twisting plot involving a restaurant robbery gone wrong. The pieces and players of this dangerous human chess game are revealed slowly as a central incident surrounding a policeman who walks in on an elaborately planed stick-up is repeated through multiple perspectives. Noble criminals, crooked cops, crazy gangsters, sceptical henchmen, mysterious mob bosses — all are par for the violent noir course; it's the way Armstrong puts these pieces together and the gusto with which lifers like Lang and Chiklis (who's also a producer) attack their roles that keep Pawn from choking on its clichés. On the visual front, the lighting is a little harsh and imprecise, but the cinematography is considered and kinetic without being showy. Other than Common's laughably bland performance, the only outright poor element of Armstrong's carefully conceived strategy is the generic police drama music — softly rising string and horn swells punctuated by dramatic, mid-tempo tom beats — which fails to help the picture establish a distinct personality. That's the main problem with Pawn: as competently made as it is, at its best it mostly just feels like any number of other serviceable crime thrillers where everyone knows at least a little more than they're letting on and nobody is quite what they seem. As a small direct-to-video release, it's not surprising that there's only one special feature, but the passion behind the project shows in the long and thorough "Behind the Scenes." Since it's mostly just a bunch of talking torsos and film footage, it's not too stimulating to watch. It's made abundantly clear that non-linear storytelling and working with established actors really excite the producers and younger cast members, and their enthusiasm is hard not to find a little infectious. (Anchor Bay)