Ethan Hawke in ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ on Prime Video

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005) is a surprisingly taut, tight, effective remake of John Carpenter’s genuine debut feature (I count Dark Star as a practice run).

Ethan Hawke stars as a former undercover cop who hit the bottle and retreated to desk work after one case went horribly wrong. Now a gun-shy station commander overseeing the last night of his police station during a New Year’s Eve snowstorm, he’s pulled out of his hole when his skeleton staff is attacked by a platoon of corrupt cops. They want a high-profile gangster (Laurence Fishburne), who has been stashed in the station’s temporary holding cell. Hawke, refusing to cave in, stands his ground during the siege with rag-tag collection of cops, civilians, and small-time crooks, making for a situation just as volatile inside as out.

The casting is excellent (especially Brian Dennehy as the veteran cop on the verge of retiring) and the physical setting is perfect. The screenplay opens up Carpenter’s insular film with backstories for both the heroes and villains (Carpenter left the attack almost unmotivated and the randomness gave the violence a scarier edge).

Yet Jean-François Ríchet, a French director making his American debut, keeps it a lean, clean, tough little movie that doesn’t overplay its story or overcomplicate the narrative. He makes this low-budget thriller is far more engrossing and satisfying than the empty big-budget overkill that gluts the action movie market.

John Leguizamo, Maria Bello, Ja Rule, Drea de Matteo, and Gabriel Byrne co-star.

Rated R

Streams for a limited time on Prime Video

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Assault on Precinct 13 [Blu-ray]
Assault on Precinct 13 [DVD]

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On Blu-ray and DVD, with a thirty-minute made-for-cable featurette, short featurettes on the weapons, production design, and stunts, interviews, and deleted scenes.

Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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