It's a brand-new year and typically that means a time of renewal, growth, and promise. People are making resolutions to lose weight, make personal, professional, and material improvements, repair relationships, etc. It is a time when people believe in promise and hope and become excited for all the new things life might offer in the coming year, including music, movies, and television series. Of course, those things typically come later in the year, as January isn't known for ringing in the new year with the best of the best. However, there are still new movies being released on the first weekend of the new year, and this year that includes director Renny Harlin's (The Long Kiss Goodnight) latest action/thriller, The Bricklayer.
Steve Vail (Aaron Eckhart; The Dark Knight) was one of the CIA's best and most annoying agents. He tended to go "off script" but always got results. He was also a handler for Radek (Clifton Collins Jr.; Capote), who did the CIA's "dirty work". However, when Radek's family was murdered he went crazy, and Vail was ordered to take him out. Having completed the job, or so he thought, Vail quit the CIA. However, years later, when the CIA suddenly becomes public enemy #1 for supposedly killing journalists looking to expose them, Vail is recruited to kill his supposedly long-dead ward, Radek, who is now blackmailing the CIA.
Harlin is no stranger to action films having directed Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea, etc. and it is a genre in which he excels. Whether there is gunfighting or hand-to-hand combat, Harlin frames the shots in a way that makes the viewer feel they are right in the middle of it all. He uses various angles to offer some variety in that manner, as well and he accentuates the physical violence in a way that is both poetic and gross all at the same time. However, with The Bricklayer he also highlights the drama and story behind Radek's and Vails's motivations which are complicated hence creating complex characters as well.
Casting Eckhart was a somewhat unusual yet wise decision. When one thinks of a gritty-looking, action star, he's not the first name on everyone's lips but he does a terrific job portraying Vail. He has a certain sophistication and air about him that elevates Vail to a different level. Eckhart is also a strong actor and leading man which makes him perfect to tackle the emotional elements of the plot which isn't always the case with action stars.
Nina Dobrev (Vampire Diaries) plays CIA Agent, Kate, who discovers that Radek is still alive and is sent with Vail to Greece as his "handler". Dobrev is less charismatic than Eckhart and the lack of chemistry is evident from the onset. Their banter comes off as biting more than witty which leaves the viewer with a bitter taste in their mouth. However, Collins Jr. fits in well with Eckhart and it is easy to feel a sense of the camaraderie the two characters once had.
While The Bricklayer is elevated above the type of movie released in January - typically categorized as "January Junk", it isn't as good as other action movies we will likely see hitting theaters in the next 11 months. What gives it a leg up is due in part to Harlin's direction and due in part to Eckhart's acting. It is also worthy to note that the moments Vail spends in solitude, listening to his Jazz music and precisely removing and replacing a damaged brick, are excellent respites between the action sequences.
The Bricklayer won't be winning awards but if you have already seen the chart-topping movies from a few weeks ago and you want to head to the theater, you could do worse than this novel turned film.