Reviews

'Pawn': A Film Unable to Ascend to Mediocrity

An ex-con, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, becomes indispensable to the robbers because of his shady past.


Pawn

Director: David A. Armstrong
Cast: Sean Faris, Ray Liotta, Forest Whitaker, Common, Nikki Reed
Distributor: Starz / Anchor Bay
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-04-23

Coco Chanel said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” That advice works not only for fashion but for other art forms as well: art, writing and filmmaking. The philosophy behind Chanel’s advice is pretty basic; keep it simple. Start with a good story and go from there. Unfortunately, the creative team behind Pawn bedazzled the crap out of what might have been a descent crime thriller.

Nick (Sean Faris) is a young car thief who has just been released after spending three months in the county jail. He has a beautiful wife, Amanda (Nikki Reed), a job interview and a baby on the way. It's unfortunate for Nick that he decides to meet his brother Patrick (Jordan Belfi), a police lieutenant, at his regular hangout, the Be Brite diner. The nondescript, run-down eatery happens to belong to a mob boss named Yuri Mikhalev (Ronald Guttman). After Patrick scolds his brother for missing the job interview in favor of attending his wife’s ultrasound and for frequenting an establishment owned by a well-known criminal, he gives Nick some money and leaves. Just minutes after his brother’s departure, three men enter with, what appears to be, the sole intent of robbing the diner.

In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Mikhalev has a hard drive with the names of all of the people he pays to help him run his crime syndicate. This item is supposed to be the old man’s bargaining chip if he ever gets in a serious jam with the authorities. The existence of this list is especially worrying to a cop named Barnes (Marton Csokas), since his name is on it. So he calls on a thug named Derek (Michael Chiklis), who owes him a favor, to use robbing the restaurant as a cover for the real payoff, Mikhalev’s safeguard.

Stuck in the middle of all this are the diner’s patrons who include Nick. Things go south quickly and because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, Nick is being set up to take the fall for the robbery. The premise isn’t stellar, and as the movie progresses, it unravels pretty quickly but it wasn’t unsalvageable. If the writer or director had made a few revisions Pawn might have aspired to, or even reached, mediocrity. But the story grows more convoluted and the primary storyline, already as unsteady as a house of cards built by a small child, completely falls apart.

Ray Liotta, who is credited in IMDB as “Man in the Suit”, makes an appearance as one of Mikhalev’s captains or henchman or whatever it is that men who work for mobsters are called. Ray Liotta from Field of Dreams and Goodfellas doesn’t even merit a name for his character? I would say that fact alone makes for a strong argument against his role being necessary.

In addition to Liotta’s talents going to waste, Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) enjoys roughly ten minutes of screen time before his character is killed. While some “Kiwi” plays a crooked lieutenant, Whitaker acts his ass off as a lowly patrolman. I could argue the atrocity of Nikki Reed (Twilight) being cast as Nick’s wife when any no-name lovely or studio executive’s niece could have filled her part, but since I don’t think she’s a very good actress, I won’t bother.

Also superfluous and completely random is Chiklis’ English accent. Yes, he’s tossing around phrases and words such as “proper geezer”, “cheeky bastard” and “stupid cow”. This isn’t your Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels English; it’s what many Americans think British people sound like.

If you’re going to make a movie with a dirty cop, rent Internal Affairs or Training Day first. No D-List actor from New Zealand is going to capture the deadly and desperate determination of a police officer on the take who fears he’s on the verge of being exposed.

Barnes spends most of the film working hard to implicate Nick not only as a participant of the robbery but the “mastermind” behind it, as well. He’s having a hard time selling his theory to both the hostage negotiator Jeff Porter (Common) or Nick’s brother who points out there is no logic in his brother robbing a diner he not only frequents but that also happens to have a mobster as a proprietor.

Nothing about Pawn makes sense from the storyline to the casting, but if you’re hoping to get some insight or answers in a director’s commentary, no such luck. The only special feature is Pawn: Behind the Scenes. All of the primary players talk about how the plot is all over the place but do so in a complimentary way that makes the film’s largest flaw sound like its greatest asset. The actors all identify who their characters are, but are vague in their descriptions for fear of divulging too many storyline details.

Appallingly, one of the film’s producers, Jeff Most, has the nerve to compare this film to the Al Pacino classic Dog Day Afternoon.

2

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.