The original 13 Tzameti which came out in 2006 was a stripped down, black and white tense thriller that relied on its central gimmick of an underground game of Russian roulette as the main draw to the film. It was successful at what it set out to do and remains one of the most tense and gripping thrillers of recent years. Hollywood loves nothing more than a unique premise which they can play with and so we get the remake entitled just ‘13’ and directed by the same director of the original.
This feels like the kind of film that director Gela Babluani would have made first time out if he had the budget and the lack of money hadn’t forced him to mine the tension for all it’s worth. So this time around the story is expanded, Sam Riley plays a young electrician called Vince whose dad is in hospital and his family have to re-mortgage their home to deal with the bills. He gets a whiff of an opportunity whilst working on a junkie’s home where someone will be paid 100 grand once they receive a mysterious envelope. The junkie overdoses and so Vince claims the envelope and follows the convoluted instructions whilst the cops sniff around close by. Eventually he is picked up and led to a mansion in the countryside where he learns he has enrolled in a game where several men put a gun to one another’s head with a single bullet in the chamber. The number of players gradually dwindles and the number of loaded bullets goes up as rich men bet huge fortunes on the numbered contestants. He is unable to escape and unable to forget the money he stands to win should he make it through.
It’s the same set up but Babluani instead loads up the film with name actors and gives the other contestants something of a back story. So you get Mickey Rourke (solid), 50 Cent (wooden), Michael Shannon (shouty), Ray Winstone (mental) and Jason Statham (Jason Statham). It wouldn’t be so bad if any of these characters actually went anywhere, one of them kind of does but Mickey Rourke’s bank robber in the wrong place at the wrong time feels especially pointless and although he has some good scenes with 50 Cent (where fiddy can’t hope to keep up) his plotline just sort of ends as soon as it began.
Most promising and the screenplay’s most intriguing sub plot which still sadly feels a bit underdeveloped is Ray Winstone’s mental home dweller who becomes Riley’s main rival in the game having won 4 tournaments in a row. Statham is his high roller brother who gets him into the game but the fact that he willingly puts his brother’s life in danger in the hope of winning millions is never satisfyingly explored.
Another issue is the film’s ill-fitting and intrusive musical score, from what I remember the original had no score which further contributed to its lo-fi thriller vibe. The score here is all wrong, kicking in at completely the wrong moments and not really fitting the subject matter or events on screen. This along with the character focus moving away from Riley’s desperate man take away tension from the main thrust of the story and feel a little mis-judged.
On the plus side this is the kind of high-profile role we should see Sam Riley in more often because he really is one of the best young actors out there. Riley impresses here portraying desperation and elation equally well throughout his ordeal. You are in no doubt that the characters mind-set has shifted as the film goes on and Riley does a great job. The central conceit and the game set pieces are still an incredibly intense affair even if they do have a loud Michael Shannon standing on a step-ladder over the entire thing. Whilst it may have ditched the black and white, the film is still shot with an impressive grit that adds to the atmosphere of impending doom and paranoia. For these reasons alone, 13 squeaks through. Not as good as the original and yet not a total disaster.