David Armstrong's Pawn (2013) treads familiar territory...but more often than not, it stands out where it should fall back. Our story revolves around a late-night diner robbery: captained by "The Brit" (Michael Chiklis), our band of thugs quickly holds down the 24-hour restaurant in search of its safe contents. Unfortunately for them, this safe is not only on a time lock, but a police officer (Forest Whitaker) drops in for a bite. Soon enough, blood is shed, a tense hostage situation ensues and the criminal motivations eventually make themselves known. Though not without a few speed bumps along the way, Pawn is a sporadically effective independent film that would've improved under different circumstances.
I'm usually not one to consider any film's budget a genuine handicap, but Pawn does feel a bit limited because of this. From the jittery, amateurish title sequence to the relatively bland production design, there just aren't many elements that visually engage the audience. I'll admit that certain fragments of Pawn are actually suited to a smaller budget, including its claustrophobic locale and down-to-earth story that demands no special effects. Even so, most viewers will occasionally be reminded that they're watching a small, independent production, and not always in the best possible sense of the word.
My other gripe is with a few performances, especially since more established actors like Forest Whitaker and Ray Liotta are limited to just a few scenes' worth of screen time. Sean Faris [Never Back Down] does a lukewarm job as Nick (the ex-convict who winds up in the middle of the hostage negotiation), but his character is flat to begin with...so whether it's this bland background or a lack of screen presence, he just doesn't carry enough weight to make it work. Common [Terminator Salvation] is an even weaker link in the chain: as Jeff Porter (the police negotiator tasked with smoothing down the situation), his lack of delivery and genuine emotion flatten a few scenes that would've otherwise been more suspenseful.
Despite these handicaps, Pawn is worthy of a weekend spin, whether you're a fan of the principal cast members or just interested in crime dramas. Michael Chiklis' standout performance as "The Brit" is an easy highlight, as fans of The Shield should have no trouble buying him as a no-nonsense, morally questionable man of action. Anchor Bay's presentation of Pawn on Blu-ray offers a decent amount of support, serving up a solid A/V presentation but little in the way of bonus features. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Pawn does a fine job of replicating the digital source material. It's not a slick, glossy production, shot mostly indoors with artificial light sources. A handful of stylistic choices separate present-day events with flashbacks; typically, these washed-out sequences are bathed in a light blue filter. The majority of Pawn has a flat, brown appearance with little depth and not much in the way of shadow detail; these limitations are due to the source material and not the transfer, though a few mild instances of banding and digital noise seem to point in that direction. Overall, this is a capable presentation that, in almost every regard, gets the job done admirably.
DISCLAIMER: This review's images are from the included DVD copy and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is also a fine replication of limited source material. There's obviously not a great deal of surround activity (save for the occasional ambiance of crowd noise and music cues), though the soundstage opens up a bit as the hostage situation unravels. Dialogue is anchored up front with good separation and dynamic range. LFE is sporadic but occasionally offers a good deal of support. Optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles have been made available during the main feature only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above in DVD form, the basic menu interface is a little bland and sluggish but easy to navigate. This two-disc combo pack is packaged inside a dual-hubbed keepcase and includes no slipcover or inserts of any kind. The Blu-ray and DVD appear to be locked for Region 1/A playback only.
The only real extra is a relatively standard Production Featurette
(1080p, 23 minutes) that summarizes the film's script, shooting and editing while also singling out a handful of cast and crew members. It's not terribly interesting but fans of Pawn
will want to check it out. A DVD Copy
of the film is also included.
Relatively brisk from start to finish, Pawn is no sleeper hit...but crime drama fans should enjoy it overall. Featuring a few standout performances, several twists and sporadic bursts of action, the only handicaps are its budget, lack of replay value and the fact that a few stronger performers have unfortunately been limited to smaller parts, (and vice versa). Anchor Bay's Blu-ray offers a solid A/V presentation but only the bare minimum of bonus features. Rent It, especially if you're a fan of one or more cast members.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.