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‘The Bricklayer’ is action cinema’s antidote to everything Oscarworthy

‘The Bricklayer’ is action cinema’s antidote to everything Oscarworthy
Angry but handy with a trowel, Aaron Eckhart stars in ‘The Bricklayer’. (Image: Vertical)

Dire dialogue, an implausible plot, end-to-end generic tropes and ceaseless clichés. ‘The Bricklayer’ has it all, plus a perpetual scowl on Aaron Eckhart’s face. It all adds up to another third-rate spy-action potboiler that limps along with all the excitement of a badly timed sneeze.

The Bricklayer with a tight-lipped Aaron Eckhart? Or The Beekeeper with a taciturn Jason Statham? It’s difficult to say precisely which film is worse. 

The latter at least manages to raise a few laughs. 

what we're watching

Jason Statham is … a beekeeper in ‘The Beekeeper’. (Image: Miramax and MGM)

In it, Statham plays an extra-top-secret-elite-killer type who is unstoppable and is living the low-key life after exiting his super-secret government job: he is now literally a beekeeper with an honest supply of honey. When some ultra-evil online scammers mess with him, Statham is sufficiently provoked to come out of retirement and he sets off on a renegade killing spree, targeting bad guys as well as anyone who gets in his way. 

The Beekeeper includes a few twisted visual jokes and gruesome killing scenes that are ludicrous enough to make the audience suppose that they are intentionally funny, if that sort of thing makes you laugh. Of course, if you pay to watch a Jason Statham movie, that’s precisely the sort of thing that makes you laugh. He has a way of making bad guys die that are like stand-up comedy bits — and they generally land.

Don’t get me wrong: The Beekeeper is a terrible film. Imbecilic, in fact. Dumb plot, awful acting, an absolute stinker. Even Jeremy Irons can’t save it — instead, he looks like he’s hoping to get taken out by a stray bullet, anything to escape the film.

But, at least the film seems to know that it’s harebrained. And it kind of leans into its many weaknesses, down to the eternally miserable streak that runs through Statham’s character: one somehow presumes he’s actually, deep down, a lovely guy, even if he’ll take your head off (quite literally) if you cross him or get in his way.

Pure hogwash

The Bricklayer, on the other hand, has no such sense of irony.

It is pure hogwash, dressed up to look like a serious movie. Of course, you would also pretend to be important if you cost $24-million to make.

what we're watching

Aaron Eckhart as an angry ex-spy who still knows how to hold a gun in ‘The Bricklayer’. (Image: Vertical)

Not that the film isn’t competently put together — the way a robot arm might assemble a thousand-piece puzzle depicting a, um, brick wall. But sadly it is devoid of a plausible plot, is difficult to follow despite the simplistic story, and has no one in it the audience ultimately cares about.

Even before the first character got shot through the head, I was confused (the shuffling of top-secret spy documents on a desk might have had something to do with this) and rapidly losing interest.

Dimple-chinned Aaron Eckhart plays Steve Vail, ostensibly an ex-CIA operative who left the Agency more than a little miffed and has now softened into a late-in-life career as a bricklayer. That’s not a metaphor, by the way, although steel yourself for a moment later in the film when Vail actually tries to present a philosophy of bricklaying in defence of his life choices.

Still, rather than any glint of irony, a kind of pursed-lip scowl occupies Eckhart’s face for the film’s entirety. In fact, one can probably count on one finger the number of times Eckhart smiles throughout the film — in his defence, though, I cannot recall a single moment in it worth smiling about.

what we're watching

Shooting of the movie ‘The Bricklayer’, starring Aaron Eckhart, on Katouni Street in the centre of Thessaloniki, Greece. (Image: Vertical)

To be completely honest, I was irritated even before he took out his artisanal bricklaying tools.  

The moment he sauntered into his first scene listening to Miles Davis and kind of trying to dance along using only subtle movements of his head as he strides, ever-so-coolly, to a construction site and announces, “I’m the bricklayer”, I was already sick of him. And I’m not sure I know of anyone who really wants a trowel-wielding jazz enthusiast for an action hero.

That in itself had me rolling my eyes, but when the trope of hard-done-by former-spy then also merges into the “stuff you, CIA, I’m not coming back” cliché, one just knows you’re in for a full 110 minutes of formulaic filmmaking, the success of which depends on how much fun manages to make its way into the mix along the way. 

Sadly, the film is not much fun at all and is rather pretty flat.

Firstly, there’s the preposterous plot, both hard to follow and difficult to swallow. We’re meant to believe that some thought-to-be-dead former CIA asset named Victor Radek has the means to turn all the nations of the world against the United States. Nope, that’s not a joke.

This baddie, once Vail’s bosom buddy, is on some sort of back-from-the-grave revenge-fuelled killing spree which will ostensibly culminate in the assassination of some-or-other Greek politician… by which time you’ll be staring at the screen just praying for a fight scene that will hopefully numb the pain of the ludicrous storyline with all its nonsensical explanations and longwinded chit-chat. 

what we're watching

Nina Dobrev plays a hapless CIA sidekick to Aaron Eckhart’s humourless former spy in ‘The Bricklayer’. (Image: Vertical)

Also hapless is Vail’s reluctant sidekick, a CIA agent played by Nina Dobrev. She is sent along to chaperone Vail, but it is her first big spy-mission adventure and she’s absolutely atrocious at whatever it is she’s meant to be doing. Some critics have said some very polite things about her performance, but ultimately she’s there to repeatedly get in the way and possibly get Vail killed.

When she’s not bait, she’s the reason things go awry. In one scene, the mechanics of the story are so dire that her dog allergy becomes a plot point and she lets out an ill-timed sneeze that lands Vail in his biggest, baddest brawl.

what we're watching

Nina Dobrev as a CIA agent who becomes bait in Renny Harlen’s lacklustre spy flick, ‘The Bricklayer’. (Image: Vertical)

Convoluted threats of imminent world-order reversal are of course familiar to this genre. And somehow when they happen in the context of even a half-decent 007 movie, one gets a genuine sense of looming global catastrophe, that hell itself may rise if Bond doesn’t take down his nemesis. But that thrill-evoking, adrenaline-pumping atmosphere with its sense of extremely high stakes and having the odds stacked against the hero as the narrative hurtles towards its over-the-top final encounter with maniacal forces of evil, is entirely missing here. 

Instead, director Renny Harlin (who has made plenty of competent action movies, including Die Hard 2) thinks he can make us believe the world order is in danger of collapse simply by orchestrating a tiny, half-hearted street protest in a small section of Thessaloniki where much of the film plays out.

He can’t. And no amount of gunfire or angry scowling can make up for the lack of narrative urgency.

If all you want are a few mediocre fight scenes, mandatory explosions and by-the-numbers killings (although, yes, there is one very satisfying incident with a trowel), you may be able to endure this film’s infernal stupidity.

If, however, you need decent dialogue, characters you care about, or even just like to look at pretty scenery, this isn’t your movie. Despite being filmed mostly in Greece, no one thought to capture some of the allure of the locations. In fact, the film has almost no aesthetic style at all. Worst of all, there’s barely a moment of it that is believable. Which is weird because there’s also barely anything here you haven’t seen before. DM

The Bricklayer opens in South African cinemas on 8 March.

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