Standoff (2016)

  • Time: 80 min
  • Genre: Drama | Thriller
  • Director: Adam Alleca
  • Cast: Thomas Jane, Laurence Fishburne, Ella Ballentine, Joanna Douglas


Carter (Thomas Jane), a troubled veteran, gets a chance at redemption by protecting a 12 year-old girl from an assassin (Laurence Fishburne) after she witnesses a murder. Holding a shotgun with a single shell, he engages in physical and psychological warfare in a desperate fight for the girl’s life.


  • “Well, well, well. That man knows his guns. So do I.”

    As I said in my review about the film “Weaponized” : “I have a weak spot for low-budget, straight to DVD, B-movies” and occasionally I discover “a piddling, unknown and unloved movie, which surpasses some blockbusters in terms of content and design”. “Standoff” is such a movie. An unpretentious film with a straight forward script. The makers don’t waste too much time and introduce practically immediately a deadly, accurate assassin (Laurence Fishburne), who turns a modest funeral into a bloody massacre without batting an eye. His appearance reminded me a little of “The Terminator”. But this time with a jet-black balaclava.

    The only thing this professional, routinized killer didn’t take into account, is Bird (Ella Ballentine). A skinny, shy girl with a camera around her neck serving as protection against and a window at the unjust world, who unwittingly takes a snapshot of the face of the killer. What follows is a chase because the murderer wants to clean up this last witness at all cost. An isolated farmhouse owned by Carter (Thomas Jane), an ex-soldier full of self-pity and remorse trying to forget his grief using booze, is the endpoint. Remorse because of an unfortunate accident that happened to his son. As a result his wife also left him. Bird showing up there might probably be interpreted by Carter as an opportunity to show a sense of responsibility for once.

    And before you know it, those two ex-military are in the grip of a standoff. Sade, the assassin with enough firepower, installs himself on the ground floor, while Carter and Bird entrench themselves upstairs, only armed with a “20-gauge shotgun” and only one shell. And so the psychological warfare between the two rivals can start with Bird at stake. There’s no lengthy intro or a detailed explanation. Even the multiple assassination at the beginning isn’t explained or elucidated. This is in fact of secondary importance. The story develops rapidly at the beginning. Within 10 minutes you are fully aware what situation both men are in. There’s the possibility that from there on it could become boring, monotonous and slow. However, the opposite is true.

    Sade tries in a verbal manner (and also in other ways) to persuade Carter to turn in Bird, while Carter guards the staircase. The subsequent dialogs between these two are on the one hand provocative and offensive. But on the other hand they are also psychologically thought through. Fishburne is clearly in his element as the unscrupulous villain. It was a pleasure to see him again in a leading role (it’s at least more impressive than his roles in “The Signal” and “The Colony”). Jane surprised me and this shows that it wasn’t his fault that his acting in “Vice” was worthless, but indeed, that film was quite appalling. Not to say utter crap. Here Jane plays a perfectly balanced role as a tormented heap of misery, full of despair and weariness of life, who transforms into a responsible savior. And finally an honorable mention for Ella Ballentine who did great.

    Even though this “home invasion” film wasn’t very original and the storyline was quite simple, it still managed to captivate me. And even though the end was kind of predictable, I still wondered how it would eventually end up anyway. An additional advantage was the short playing time which in turn led to a proper pace. All in all, a fascinating film. Yet another proof that films that take place exclusively in one particular location, can also be entertaining. At least I didn’t need to fight against sleep, as those two guys.

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  • Standoff (my latest review) kinda reminded me of last year’s The Hateful Eight. It’s not a Western per se but like “Eight”, there’s a sense of claustrophobia and a real cat and mouse way about everything. In truth, I liked Standoff better because it only needed eighty minutes to tell its story (whereas Tarantino’s film needed almost three, bloated hours to get the job done). Now does that mean I’m garnering a recommendation? Not quite. Standoff’s script disappoints because it isn’t nearly tight enough. The two lead actors (Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne) get saddled with overworked dialogue and ham it up to no end. Yeah I liked the concept of this flick with its wound up tension and reminisce of a one act play. But here’s the thing: I just couldn’t listen to two testosterone-filled meatheads yell at each other for one more minute. Example of an exchange between these guys: “I gotta a cellphone as*hole.” “I know dipsh*t, I’m looking at it.” My eyes couldn’t stop rolling.

    Containing one brutal torture scene (you’ll never look at a hammer the same way again), filmed on location in Ontario, Canada (it felt like Georgia to me), and featuring a likable child actress in Ella Ballentine, Standoff is violent, unmerciful, and darkly confined. It’s like Cujo without the snarling dog or 1990’s Misery without good old Kathy Bates. First timer Adam Alleca directs in a clean and skillful manner. He starts things off with a bang by showcasing murders at a cemetery (how convenient). Then he lets everything eventually boil down to a slight creep. There are flashbacks, Larry Fishburne channeling his inner Samuel L. Jackson (with his Zodiac-style mask on you’d swear it was Jules Winnfield himself), blood spattering that looks like paintball wars gone wild, and hate begets hate banter between a couple of sweaty actors. In less than an hour and a half, everything mentioned evaporates as you watch it along with Standoff’s scorched scenery and mild cowboy feel. This flick basically “stands” upright but it could have “delivered” a little better. Natch.

    Anyway, the story is as follows: Bird (Ballentine) is a young girl who is quiet, mild-mannered, and loves to take pictures. Within the film’s first ten minutes, she has camera in tote and is about to visit the graves of her parents who both died in a car accident. As she walks into the middle of an ongoing funeral, a contract killer (Laurence Fishburne as Sade) offs a priest and two other patrons who happen to be there. Bird sees Sade’s face, snaps a photo of him, and flees to an old house owned by a fallen soldier named Carter (Thomas Jane). Sade ventures to said house and has to kill Bird because she is a witness. Carter keeping an eye on Sade with a shotgun, vows to protect Bird and won’t let sicko Sade go upstairs to finish the job. (I mean gosh, this is a 9-11 year-old we’re talking about). Therein lies the film’s title. Add a couple of backstories about Carter losing his own kid and Sade having terminal prostate cancer and wallah, you have a nasty thriller oozing regret, despondency, and desperation.

    All in all, I think Standoff as an uber Western, is far from being a so-so movie. I mean it keeps you somewhat enthralled and on the edge of your seat. Added to that, the music by Austin Wintory includes a whiff of calculated menace to go along with Standoff’s obsession with the color red (red is associated with danger so that makes sense). I just wish the film’s screenplay didn’t cause two veteran troupers to completely over reach. Sometimes less is more as opposed to more being more. Now if I had to give out an acting prize, I’d go with the obvious non-veteran in young Ella Ballentine. As Bird, she exudes a level of sensitivity and empathy. Her relationship with Jane’s Carter and her ability to look calm and contingent in the face of death, is the heart of Standoff.

    Bottom line: This is a non-theatrical release with production values that are above the norm in the direct-to-video category. Standoff as fodder for walking off into the 2016 sunset, could easily pass for a Saturday night rental (don’t forget the beer, antipasto salad, and the pizza). Rating: A strong 2 and a half stars.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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