Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language throughout
Directed by: Adam Alleca
Written by: Adam Alleca
Starring: Thomas Jane, Laurence Fishburne, Ella Ballentine, Jim Watson & Joanna Douglas
I would have probably skipped out on seeing STANDOFF, if it hadn’t been for a fellow movie reviewer friend (Matt Reifschneider at Blood Brothers Reviews) recommending it. With a good deal of skepticism, I decided to sit down to what I fully expected to be a silly B-movie. Color me surprised, because STANDOFF is a damn good thriller. The premise is simple, but engaging. The dialogue is occasionally cliched, but the over-the-top acting keeps the viewer entertained. Even though this film isn’t brimming with action, the plot’s tension is constant. All of these positive qualities (and flaws) combined make for a surprisingly solid indie flick.
Bird (Ella Ballentine), a 12-year-old girl, is visiting a graveyard with her aunt. In order to kill some time, Bird is taking random pictures and she unwittingly snaps some shots of sadistic hitman Sade (Laurence Fishburne) executing a job. Sade sees that the little lady has witnessed his latest hit and gives chase, with the intention of offing the kid. Luckily, Bird comes across the country home of depressed war veteran Carter (Thomas Jane). Carter and Sade both fire off a bullet into each other and retreat to different floors of the house. Carter is protecting Bird upstairs and Sade is trying to find a way to kill them from downstairs…and, now, we have a movie.
STANDOFF’s title is not misleading in any way, shape, or form, because 95% of this movie is a tense standoff between Jane and Fishburne. This simple premise seems like it could have easily given way to boredom or become ridiculously unbelievable after a certain space of time, but STANDOFF keeps its tension rolling with new revelations and clever character development. Most of this movie is made up of a verbal battle of wits between a grizzled antihero and desperate (and deadly) hired killer. It’s almost like a mini-Western that’s set within the space of a single house. If that idea interests you, then you’ll likely enjoy this film.
STANDOFF was clearly made with budgetary constraints. I’d wager that a good portion of this film’s price-tag was spent on securing Jane and Fishburne for their roles, and then locating a house that would serve as a good location. First-time director Adam Alleca (who originally wrote this screenplay while he was in college) wisely uses the production’s limitations to strengthen STANDOFF’s small-scale storytelling. Details about Carter’s past are verbally pieced together by Sade and the viewer discovers more about both characters from these interactions. We see what a complete murderous scumbag Sade is (after all, he’s trying to kill a little girl) and we discover that Carter is already a damaged person.
STANDOFF’s atmosphere has an almost stage play vibe (in a similar vein to Quentin Tarantino’s HATEFUL EIGHT), because it’s set in a single location with a small cast of characters. I could easily envision this as a play before it was a movie, but that’s a positive quality as this would have been a great play to sit through. The constant interactions between Jane and Fishburne are a blast as both actors straddle the line between being entertainingly over-the-top and dramatically sound. At the end of the day, I bought both of these characters as realistic and also enjoyed that there was an exaggerated edge to both of them. Two smaller supporting characters also happen across the house, but their roles make up about ten minutes of screen time. This is mostly a cat-and-mouse game between Jane and Fishburne.
STANDOFF’s weaknesses arrive in a handful of lines that sound cliched. Though Ella Ballentine seems like a convincing child actress for the most part (she was great in THE MONSTER), she’s handed some hokey dialogue. Also, there are a couple of dumb character decisions made on the part of Sade. One specific scene asks the viewer to make a big logical leap that this desperate hitman is also pretty stupid and doesn’t recognize an open opportunity when it’s standing right in front of his face. These flaws keep STANDOFF from being a great movie, but it still remains as a damn fine thriller…especially from a first-time filmmaker.
If you’re looking for a hidden gem (of which there are too many to count in the modern overcrowded film market) and enjoy single-location thrillers, then STANDOFF will satisfy your cinematic cravings. Laurence Fishburne’s crazed villain and Thomas Jane’s gruff antihero are both a blast to watch. The single location serves as a tense setting for a bloody battle of wits. Though this film isn’t top-tier indie fare or near perfect filmmaking, STANDOFF is very entertaining stuff. This one comes surprisingly recommended!