Thursday, 23 July 2009

Judgment Night


Directed by: Stephen Hopkins
Screenplay: Lewis Colick
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr, Stephen Dorff, Jeremy Piven & Denis Leary

Highly underrated suspense/action flick from the early 90s, Judgment Night takes its simple premise and runs with it. Coupled with tight direction, a frightening urban landscape and a great bad guy in Denis Leary, Judgment Night jacks up the tension and action as four friends (Estevez, Gooding Jr, Dorff and Piven) take a wrong turn in the urban jungle on their way to a boxing match. Down and out in the wrong part of town they attempt to help an injured man who has crossed their path. Said injured man is trying desperately to get away from bad guy crime lord Fallon (Leary) who when catching up to the running man executes him and then sets off in pursuit of the four witnesses. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse through an urban hell which the suburban foursome is definitely not at home in.

After making a splash in Hollywood with gruesome and hi-tech sequels A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Predator 2, Stephen Hopkins applied his considerable skill for blockbusting tension and action to what is his most under appreciated Hollywood flick. Set piece cinema it may be, Judgment Night still has enough character and even social commentary to lift it above most genre fair and with Hopkins on board, a dark thriller is crafted. His skill for cranking up tension is cut loose in a number of scenes not least a brilliant scrabble across a rickety ladder between two high rise buildings, a stalk and slash sequence inside a deserted department store and best off all the four “heroes” hiding in a rail car desperately trying to persuade the homeless that reside in there not give them up to Fallon and his goons who lurk and taunt them from outside.

The pace moves at a fair click and the night time setting lends itself to the alien world the protagonists find themselves in. They are constantly battling with their own morals and their own perceptions of the world they find themselves in. A good amount of the tension comes from the concept of the four leads finding themselves out of their comfort zone. Not exactly clean cut heroes, the four main leads do well imbuing their characters with a little more depth than this material usually allows as each of them react to their predicament differently. But it is Leary who steals the show as the vicious Fallon, a thoroughly nasty human being just kept the ride side of over-the-top. By the time it comes to the beat down fight at the finale you are glad he is getting his lights punched out.

Equal parts tense thriller and rollicking action film, Judgment Night is an uncomplicated, thrilling ride. A great cast, a director flexing his creative skills and a straight forward story well told, Judgment Night is a true 90s gem.

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