Assault on Precinct 13 ★★★★★

"How did you come by a name like Napoleon Wilson?"
"I'll tell you some time."
"When will you tell me?"
"Make that in a minute or two!"

Is vintage John Carpenter the face of God? Maybe. Assault on Precinct 13 is basically a classic violent western film in the Howard Hawks mould if it took place in then-contemporary times with modern sensibilities and aesthetics. To call this a great achievement in low-budget filmmaking isn't doing nearly enough justice. For many people out there, this is their first true taste of what Carpenter is able to achieve with such a limited, potentially crippling even, amount of money and resources. If there's anything the legend has a gift for, it's for taking something made for pennies and making it look like it could've been distributed by a major Hollywood studio, a gift that Carpenter utilized for many of his future works. This has probably some of the best cinematography of any of his films, with cinematographer Douglas Knapp giving it a very slick yet gritty look and feel that honestly kind of makes it look timeless. This film is forty-two years old and yet from the way it's shot and lit, it looks like it could've been made today. If that's not great filmmaking, I don't know what is. Carpenter also efficiently displays his talent for getting great performances out of his actors. Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston are both fantastic as fresh out of the academy Lt. Ethan Bishop and notorious convict Napoleon Wilson. What makes this so refreshing and even groundbreaking -- especially in our current day and age -- is that Bishop, the police officer, is a black man and Wilson, the criminal, is a white man. It's an effective piece of racial subtext that manages to elevate the story above what could've been a fairly generic and standard action plot. My favorite performance has to come from the luminous Laurie Zimmer as buxom office manager Leigh, named after frequent Howard Hawks collaborator Leigh Brackett. I love this woman, to the point where I'd consider her to be one of my favorite female characters in any action film. She's tough and coolly self-assured yet compassionate and unabashedly feminine. She takes a bullet in the arm and yet is still able to fend off a multitude of the Street Thunder gang members. How is that not awesome? Carpenter creates a chilling yet catchy score inspired by the likes of Lalo Schifrin's work on Dirty Harry and Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song and the way he crafts action sequences is simply unparalleled, with smooth camerawork and editing throughout and brilliantly built up tension from frame one to the last. Assault on Precinct 13 is one of Carpenter's masterpieces.

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