Pawn DVD | Blu-ray | Streaming
Directed by David A. Armstrong
Starring Ray Liotta, Nikki Reed, Forest Whitaker, Marton Csokas, Sean Faris, Michael Chiklis, Stephen Lang, Common, Max Beesley, Ronald Guttman
Anchor Bay Films
Originally Released: April 23, 2013
Pawn is one of those convoluted crime thrillers, told out of sequence, making up pieces to a puzzle that will cause you to keep guessing throughout the movie. Featuring Michael Chiklis and Ray Liotta among many other big names, and alongside a stellar performance by Sean Faris, this is one of those gangster/heist style mystery flicks that provides more questions than it does answers, though resonant of movies like Dog Day Afternoon.
Pawn is set in a small-town diner, which is taken over by three British gangsters planning a robbery of the location. The diner serves as a legitimate front for a big name in organized crime, and while the gangsters think they’re in the job for the money, their leader Derrick (Michael Chiklis) is after a very specific item: a hard drive with data that contains names of big players.
Meanwhile, the hostages in the diner include Nick Davenport (Sean Faris), a petty car thief who has just been released from county prison whose brother is a cop working for Internal Affairs. As the heist becomes more complicated and dangerous, the police are called out to the scene. Derrick puts Davenport out front as their communicator with negotiator Jeff Porter (Common), turning him into the face of the heist, making the cops believe Nick is behind it all.
But as well as the heist storyline, there are a dozen other story threads that weave in and out of Pawn that all accumulate into a high tension conclusion. Each individual character fits into the story in some way, and there are various connections between many of them that complicate the narrative – not in a muddying manner – but that add to the overall puzzle of the story.
While there are a bunch of big names in this movie, it was Sean Faris that grabbed my attention the most in this piece. In a plot that has a handful of characters with an abundance of integral elements and backstory, Faris’ character of Nick is the closest to being the protagonist of the tale. His performance is relatively convincing, providing an intense and emotional impression, with mannerisms that, to me, were very evocative of a young Christian Bale. Faris is integral to the story in many ways, and his role is very impressive.
Max Beesley also highly impressed me as Bill, who serves as Derrick’s second in charge. He has a solid presence on screen, very steely, and convincingly portrays the position of an experienced criminal with a level head, though strategic. I’d love to see him in some other similar roles, he exhibits some strength here. He works extremely well with Chiklis, and both evidently have a fabulous chemistry on screen. Chiklis, incidentally, pulls off a geezer-style British accent (one you would ordinarily recall from a Guy Ritchie heist flick) very well, though it’s a little disorienting to begin with.
Other notable roles in the film include that of Stephen Lang, who plays the frail Charlie that works in the diner, who most of our readers will remember as the hardass marine from Avatar, though I daresay you won’t recognize him. Lang blends in to the movie completely, and he sinks into the role so convincingly that he disappears completely.
Ray Liotta is also good as the mysterious unnamed "Man in the Suit", who seemingly works for a few different players in this game. He delivers a wonderful monologue about death clocks part way through the film that is chilling, over a montage of events happening at that moment. Common is relatively good as Porter, though I found him to be less convincing than in any of his previous roles. And finally, Forest Whitaker is fantastic in perhaps one of the shortest roles he’s ever played in a film, though key and essential for setting up the scene.
The script for Pawn is superb, without a doubt. Its pacing is of an excellent quality, and rarely brings in elements that don’t play a part in the story. The non-linear nature of the writing makes for an intense viewing experience, but also will serve to be a delight for viewers who love to watch movies that are constructed in a manner that feel like a puzzle that needs to be solved.
Where the writing is let down, however, is in the direction. Many of the actors bring a big game to the movie, and are entertaining, but some scenes often come across as rushed and incomplete. If Pawn had a better budget and longer filming schedule, I’m sure director David A. Armstrong may have had a better opportunity to tighten up some of the looseness and smoothed over the rougher edges of the production.
There isn’t a lot of deeper subtext or symbolism in Pawn, due to the nature of the story being filled with many characters and their own threads within the plot. One notable element though is the chess-theme that keeps coming up through the movie. Whitaker’s and Lang’s characters have an ongoing chess game, often being observed from afar by Yuri (Ronald Guttman). The floor of the diner itself is a black and white square pattern, indicating that the entire situation is a long game, strategic and significant, but leaving it ambiguous enough to make it almost impossible to determine the heavy players from the pawns.
Despite its rougher edges, Pawn is a movie worth a view. There are some impressive performances with a surprisingly strong cast, and the convoluted nature of the plot will keep you guessing as to where things are going. The puzzle is a formidable one, but one worth looking into.