VOD film review: 16 Blocks
Ivan Radford | On 15, Aug 2021
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Bruce Willis, Yasiim Bey, David Morse
Where to watch 16 Blocks online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
“When I woke up this morning, I didn’t expect to be trading nine millies with my friend.” That’s the sound of a corrupt cop and an honest cop standing off in 16 Blocks, the last film from director Richard Donner. It’s a fitting swan song for the Lethal Weapon helmer, a twist on the buddy cop formula that carries the weary weight of experience but moves with the taut pacing of youth.
The film stars Bruce Willis as Jack Mosley, a tired, old detective who’s just at the end of his shift – and, we infer, his career. But just as he’s about to head home for the night, he’s told to transport a witness in an anti-corruption case to a grand jury down the round. He has to travel 16 blocks with Eddie (Yasiin Bey) in two hours – what could go wrong?
The answer, inevitably, is a lot, but that’s partly down to Jack himself – he barely makes it a block before he’s parking up at an off-licence to get a bottle of booze, and that window is all the people who don’t want Eddie to testify to make their move. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse thriller across a small stretch of Manhattan, as a guy who just wants to clock off is pursued by bent coppers all determined to grant his wish.
The screenplay by Richard Wenk is one of the writer’s first (he also penned The Equalizer and The Expendables 2) and it benefits from the decision to keep things simple: the whole thing unfolds almost in real-time and doesn’t attempt to reinvent in the wheel, but rather just ride it out on a decidedly small scale. There are some superbly orchestrated set pieces on a bus and in a bar, but the thrills really come to life in the grounded conversations that drive the action forwards.
One face-off between David Morse’s Frank Nugent and Willis’ Jack is a beautifully explicit but grippingly performed statement of the film’s central moral conflict – “There are no lines. There’s getting it done and not getting it done,” argues Morse’s wonderfully sinister police chief. And throughout the runtime are the exchanges between Eddie and Jack that gradually open up both men to emerge as more than they appear. Yasiin Bey’s fast-talking presence gradually grows from grating to deceptively nuanced, while Willis (who did this between Lucky Number Slevin and Over the Hedge) finds a grizzled sentiment beneath his worn-out exterior.
The result is an understated but riveting tale of redemption that plays out like a modern 3.10 to Yuma or a lost Die Hard flick, a clash of innocence and guilt that lets Donner balance tension and humour with an earnest understanding that people can change. It’s an enjoyably old-fashioned, but confidently streamlined affair, a lean tale of a veteran prepared to punch his ticket – and go down swinging.
16 Blocks is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.