Brick Mansions (2014): A Decent Action Film Remake That Calls for Revolution

Brick Mansions poster

  “Brick Mansions” is a film that manages to beat the film it’s based on (“District 13”) in some ways, while failing in others. It manages to bring the feel and call for revolution that I never got in the original and it also humanizes one of the antagonists, and it is handled, fairly well. This was one of Paul Walker’s last films too, before his tragic death. It also stars David Belle, who was one of the main protagonists in the original French film.

    The film was directed by Camille Delamarre and written by Luc Besson while being produced by Claude Leger and Jonathan Vanger.

    The film takes place in Dystopian Detroit where Brick Mansions is a walled off zone from the city. When a bomb is captured by the Kingpin Tremain (Rza) it is up to undercover cop Damien (Paul Walker) to stop him. He must depend on ex-convict Leno (David Belle) to help him though as Leno knows the city and is trying to save his girlfriend from the Kingpin.

The Pros: Dystopian Detroit – Dystopian Detroit was a great location to choose, especially how the city is growing to that point now with so many industries having moved out and no new ones coming in. The location feels real for this reason.

Tremaine – This Kingpin does a lot of things the original does (kidnap Lola who is Leno’s gf and has the bomb). The difference in this one is he figures out he was being used and realizes that shooting the city isn’t going to solve anything, it will just make the city hate them. He ends up winning and in the end is able to run for Mayor of Detroit after the corrupt one is revealed for trying to destroy Brick Mansions. Rza is awesome.

Leno – Leno is great, just like in “District 13.” He’s a character who is smart on his feet and quick and is evenly matched with Damien as well as being a man trying to make up for the career in crime he lead before. i wish we’d gotten more but David Belle gives him good characterization at least.

Damien – Paul Walker is a good actor is what this film showed me. He has charisma and can play the tough guy as well as someone who can show sensitivity and awareness. Seeing him in action as Damien the cop was great as well his turnaround when he realizes the Kingpin and Leno are right and he is being used by the mayor.

Call for Revolution – The call for revolution is powerful as the film calls out recognition of those who have nothing as the people from Brick Mansions raid City Hall and reveal the Mayor as a fraud, it’s powerful with Tremaine running for mayor showing that change and revolution can happen.

Calling Attention to Social Ills – District 13 and Brick Mansions (the locations) call locations to racism and classism and how certain groups (usually of African Descent) are put into areas where there is no education that is granted

The Cons: The Mayor – He’s a weasel who gets zero development. What was his motivation beyond racism and classism?

Tremain’s Second – She’s the one who takes on a lot of the creepyness the Kingpin does in “District 13” as she is the one tries to rape Lola and imprisons her to the rocket and is her constant abuser. She ever turns against Tremaine at one point. She is antagonistic and has no depth beyond that. I wish her motivations had been explored.

Lola – Lola is a cipher, which is a shame as her character was pretty awesome in “District 13” as she fought everyone around her. Here she fights Tremaine’s second but isn’t given much to do beyond that. We never get her motivations anywhere or why she was with Leno, which was a shame and showed the major lack of character development on the writer’s part.

  This was a solidly good film but not great, much like the original French Film “District 13” there are inklings of greatness there but due to underdevloped villains and characters, the story never quite reaches that final point of great. It is still worth checking out, and as someone who has watched none of the “Fast and Furious” films I appreciate Paul Walker’s acting from this. I’d also like to see Rza and David Belle in other films as well. There is talent in this film it just was never fully utilized.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Léon: The Professional (1994): When Forming Human Connections is Complicated

Leon-movie-poster-leon-1994-movie-24520438-521-755

     Luc Besson is a fascinating director who seems to always have some sort of undertone that turns me off from his films. In the film “Taken” and “Lucy” it was the implied or open racism of heroes that made the films difficult to enjoy (even though the action was good) and for this film it is the undercurrent of pedophilia (even though there is a real friendship between the characters). In the instance of “Lucy” and “The Professional” there are counters to this within the film itself, but the fact that I experienced that from what the film was showing me in the first place automatically brought them down and kept them from being truly great films. The only film that hasn’t done this that I’ve seen by the director is “The Fifth Element” which I plan to review on a later date.

     The film was directed by Luc Besson who also wrote the screenplay, and was produced by Petrice Ledoux.

     The story is about Leon (Jean Reno) who takes in Mathilda (Natalie Portman) after her family is executed by the corrupt DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). After rejecting her at first he comes to be attached to her as he trains her to be a “cleaner” too as she seeks revenge against Stansfield for the murders.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is really beautiful and really gives you glimpses into the minds of the characters. From Stansfield’s insanity, Leon’s confusion and good heart and Mathilda’s anger. Thierry Arbogast did a great job on it.

The Soundtrack – Eric Serra did a fantastic job on the soundtrack too as it played up the meditative thoughts and glimpses into our characters’ minds. It fit the New York City atmosphere as well.

The Main Characters – Mathilda, Norman and Leon are all great characters. But the minor characters feel more like archetypes than characters so they’ll be listed further down.

Norman Stansfield – Gary Oldman is great at playing this psychopath. He hams it up so well as Stansfield who is a corrupt DEA agent who is making money off of selling drugs on the side and getting a cut of everything and isn’t above executing a family to keep what he does secret. He was so despicable and reveled in it and was so fun to watch. Sadly he is gone for a good portion of the film before the climax so we miss out on some more crazy moments we could have gotten or seen that he executes all the families of those who go against him or can’t deliver on the drugs. His death is rewarding, even though the wrong person got the kill.

Leon – Leon is the “Cleaner” who takes on Mathilda when she needs a safe place after her family is slaughtered. Both of them are outcasts and it is in forming a connection with her and being the father she never had that he finds his soul too as he has only been a killer for hire who refuses to kill women and kids until this moment. He transforms from their relationship and all the money he has earned goes to Mathilda when Stansfield finally kills him. He shows in the end he is a dark shade of grey, but a good guy. Though he has one issue that I wish the film had addressed that I’ll go into later.

Tony – This is the only minor character who felt like a fully fleshed out character, as he was a mafioso who was holding Leon’s money and held it very close while still always coming through whenever it was asked for and he does fulfill his obligation to Mathilda…though he also gives up Leon to Stansfield…so he’s flawed and complicated and I wish we’d seen him more.

Mathilda – Mathilda is awesome and I wish she had made the kill on Stansfield. She is at the very least physically abused by her step-sister, step-mom and father and her only relationship she cares about is her little brother who is killed by Stansfield’s men. From here she seeks revenge and chickens out when she first confronts Stansfield but does all she can to protect Leon when the men come to kill him. She sees him as her “lover” though their relationship is much more of a mentor or father one, but her saying that made it weird and hard to enjoy as she is 12 and he is in his 40s. She was still a great character though who endured a lot and found some semblance of peace when she takes Leon’s plant that she names after him and plants it in the school that she was kicked out of that accepted her after the events of the story.

The Cons: Disposable Thugs and Minor Characters – Stansfield’s men are like blank slates, which is a shame as they could have had more distinct motivations and personalities. They were just bad as were Mathilda’s family, they were selfish and abusive and that was the extent of their characterization. It was a huge missed opportunity.

Pedophile Undertones – Mathilda calling Leon her “lover” and Leon never saying he saw her as his daughter to counter it made their relationship really uncomfortable. Thankfully he doesn’t do anything sexual or I’d have hated this movie but it is still there as Mathilda calls him that and he does nothing to end that fantasy and establish boundaries. This undercurrent kept from enjoying the film big time.

Leon getting Mathilda’s Kill – The final issue of why I don’t consider this film great is Mathilda’s arc was that of revenge but she never got to kill Stansfield. She should have got that kill and learned from it not had others teach her that learning doesn’t mean you get peace, her lessons were given to her by others and she never got to learn them for herself. She should have killed Stansfield.

  This was a good movie, though like Besson’s other films outside of “The Fifth Element,” troublesome. The acting is fantastic and the character interactions are wonderful too as is the soundtrack and cinematography, just know that the pedophilic undercurrent is there and that Mathilda is cheated out of getting her kill, though she does find some semblance of peace thankfully.

Final Score: 8 / 10