Detroit On Film #4: Assault on Precinct 13

They just don’t make action movies like they used to.  Take a look at the genre today and you will see bloated, high-budget affairs where the set-pieces are more important than the characters and the story. That’s why I love John Carpenter. He is a no nonsense director that gets right to the point. He doesn’t have time for your fancy shmancy special effects and 360 degree spins because he is too busy showing people kicking ass and blowing stuff up. Assault on Precinct 13 is one of his earlier works, so it’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s still worth watching and one of his better films.

Like most of Carpenter’s movies, the storyline is simple and uncomplicated.  Police raid a local gang hideout and the members decide to take revenge. There are some side stories that happen as well and they converge at Precinct 13 with a climatic battle. The action is filmed realistically, which I always appreciate in an action movie. There is one scene in particular that made my jaw drop at how brutal it was…it’s so bad that Carpenter himself has stated he wished he never put it in the movie.  For a low-budget film, it looks great, which is a testament to his talent and ingenuity. It does drag a little bit in the middle but picks up by the end for a spectacular finish. As an aside, I like how there are always strong women who don’t succumb to gender stereotypes in Carpenter’s films. It’s refreshing.

The musical score (composed by the man himself) is all minimalist synthesizer piano riffs and it’s catchy and memorable. One of the main characters whistles the main movie theme from time to time. I thought that was a cool little touch. The acting is hammy and over the top sometimes, but I think that is just indicative of the era it was made in. I notice a lot of films made in the 1970’s have that style of acting and it adds a bit of charm. The editing could be tighter and there are some little continuity errors here and there but they can be overlooked for the most part.

Assault on Precinct 13 is a good, old-fashioned shoot-em-up movie that will please any fan of the genre. It’s the movie equivalent of steak and potatoes—not a lot of frills but if you are in the mood for it, intensely satisfying.

-Review by Michelle Kisner