Assault on Precinct 13
Assault on Precinct 13
1976. Directed by John Carpenter.
The urban response to Hawk's Rio Bravo, John Carpenter's second directorial feature, Assault on Precinct 13 is a masterclass genre blender and a no apologies social commentary that is the epitome of the "more with less" film making philosophy.
Sgt. Ethan Bishop is tasked with presiding over Anderson's Precinct 13 on it's last night of operation. Anderson is a violent neighborhood in South Central L.A. Prior to Bishop's assignment the LAPD gun down 6 members of the Street Thunder gang and the gang's four leaders swear a blood oath of revenge against the police and citizens of Anderson. This leads to Bishop and skeleton crew of secretaries and convicts having to defend the precinct against the superior firepower and numbers of the gang.
The most compelling parts of the film revolve around the social issues that Carpenter was addressing. You have police violence against criminals that may or may not be justified. The two heroes are an African American Police Officer and a Caucasian Prisoner, who, as the film develops form a bond of mutual respect and brotherhood. The female lead, played by Laurie Zimmer, is strong, capable, and absolutely bad ass, going beyond Dickinson's inspirational turn in Rio Bravo. All three of these amazing qualities are concepts that modern Hollywood still struggles with today and Carpenter put them on display almost as an afterthought.
Assault on Precinct 13 was an uncharacteristically violent film for it's time. No one is safe in Carpenter's asphalt wasteland and the kills are shown in graphic splendor, with very little happening off screen. However, much like every Carpenter film, the violence has a point and serves the maestro's narrative with every blood drop.
Douglas Knapp's cinematography is the ringer of this picture. It has no business looking as slick and composed as it does and Knapp's unobtrusive command of the camera keeps it focused not only on the action, but on the moments in between, which is where the heart of Assault lies. Carpenter's script is a dynamite bouquet, tearing down genre restrictions an using minimal dialogue to communication massive ideas on masculinity, gang culture, and friendship. Carpenter gives the gang members almost no words and they move like ghosts appearing in one frame and then vanishing in the next, a supernatural homage to Romero's undead powerhouse.
The score was composed by Carpenter in three days and features an unforgettable, invasive theme that musically narrates the intense showdown. Every time the synthesized music begins you know danger is coming and you can't stop yourself from rooting for Bishop and his compatriots.
Available for digital rental, Assault on Precinct 13 is a one of kind film that has influenced countless directors since it's release. A straight up action thriller with minimal verbage and maximum intensity that is quick to build up and slow to relent, a perfect late night feature experience.