As soon as I got the invite for this film, I was immediately intrigued by its premise. Two opposing forces in close proximity with little to no outside help to aid either side in their causes always piques my interest because of how limiting it is. Sometimes great stories can be told when filmmakers have to be very creative with meager resources. Satisfaction isn’t always reached, however, like in the case of Phone Booth and Red Eye, but Standoff manages to mix its ingredients into the magic formula that just works. Sure, it’s got a tinsel town ending that disagrees with the rest of the grit that came before it, but that’s hardly a blemish on this great film.
In a remote area of the country where houses are sparse, Sade (Laurence Fishburne) is a mafia hitman who accidentally allows himself to be photographed during a hit by a young girl nicknamed Bird (Ella Ballentine). Spotted by Sade, Bird runs to the nearest house she can find, which is owned by a lonely depressed man named Carter (Thomas Jane). When he hears Bird screaming for help, he opens his front door to see what’s the matter only to get shot in the leg from a distance by Sade. Carter and Bird flee to the second story where Carter grabs his shotgun and his last two shells, shooting Sade in the abdomen with some buckshot. With both men wounded and committed to the little girl, the next few hours become a test of wills, patience, and fortitude.
The writing is superb. By that I don’t mean that there is necessarily anything catchy or memorable about the dialog or the action. Instead, the writing is great because it does what it needs to do. It doesn’t try to be clever with unrealistic exchanges or bog the film down with unnecessary character backgrounds. It’s utilitarian, but not Spartan. Characters still have much to say and do, and audiences really do get a sense of who everyone is and their motivations. The film just doesn’t go beyond that, and that’s perfect. Adam Alleca is the kind of writer/director that everyone should appreciate, because he knows where the edges are. On the other hand, I did skewer another film he wrote that came out this year, Cell, specifically for its script, but he didn’t direct that one like he did here. So we’ll blame the director for the other movie!
With that in mind, a good script can also be ruined by bad actors. Fortunately, the cast of Standoff is impressively strong. Thomas Jane and Laurence Fishburne are two very reliable, very solid journeyman actors who put in the work to bring their characters to life. And the characters they play are not necessarily challenging roles, but the hallmark of a good actor is being able to find some kind of emotional core to build on to bring their relatively mundane roles into the realm of believability, sympathy, and revulsion. And let’s not forget Ella Ballentine. I typically have no faith in child actors, but Ella strikes the perfect tone with her burgeoning independence, but emotional and physical dependency. In short, she’s not helpless enough to make any thoughts of sacrificing her morally unthinkable. Instead, she’s old enough and mature enough that one could consider trading her life for something else if the stakes were high enough. And that makes for excellent drama.
Finally, smart use of a single location keeps the tension high by keeping protagonist and antagonist close together without making the film feel claustrophobic. In fact, there’s a great shot in the latter half of the film that shows just how thinly separated the two parties are – Heaven against Hell. And unlike other films of this nature, Standoff highlights its higher caliber by constantly giving its characters interesting and meaningful things to do despite the limited location. This is small budget filmmaking at its finest.
So even though I received an invite to attend a press screener for Standoff, I didn’t accept. I was sick and tired of driving out to Los Angeles and sitting in traffic for what could have been a terrible movie. But if I had made the drive this time, Standoff would not have disappointed me. Luckily for you, you can watch the film on Netflix just as I did. It’s one of the few gems on there right now.