'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.


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.


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