You’d be forgiven for not having The Bricklayer on your radar. This new action flick comes to us in early January, that dumping ground Hollywood uses to quietly release movies not deemed awards-worthy. But don’t let the release date fool you – longtime genre director Renny Harlin and a game Aaron Eckhart make this thriller worth catching.
Harlin knows his way around an action scene, with credits like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight under his belt. Here he tackles an adaptation of Noah Boyd’s novel about Steve Vail, a former CIA operative now making an honest living laying bricks. But Vail gets sucked back into the spy game when his old associate Radek (Clifton Collins Jr.) resurfaces to wreak havoc. The CIA needs Vail’s help taking down this dangerous rogue agent.
As our bricklaying hero, Eckhart brings a flinty determination reminiscent of a young Bruce Willis. You can tell he’s having a blast trading quips and punches as this irregular everyman turned ruthless dynamo. And Harlin capture the fisticuffs and foot chases with his signature balletic, balls-to-the-wall style. It’s a throwback to the heyday of the American action flick.
So don’t underestimate The Bricklayer because of its low-profile opening. For action fans hungry for their first cinematic meal of 2024, it should hit the spot nicely. It’s not flashy or sophisticated, but like bricklaying itself, delivers solid, satisfying workmanship.
Brick by Brick, the Mystery Unfolds
At first glance, Steve Vail seems like an ordinary joe – he punches a timecard as a bricklayer, cracking open a beer after work while listening to Miles Davis. But we soon learn this guy has a past. Vail is former CIA, the agency’s best dirty deeds doer before quitting under a cloud of suspicion. Now his I-just-lay-bricks quiet life gets shattered when the CIA comes calling again.
It seems Vail’s old pal Radek has gone rogue. Once Vail’s loyal right-hand man for off-the-books missions, Radek is now murdering journalists and framing the CIA to squeeze them for cash. The Agency needs Vail to fly to Greece and investigate these killings pinned on them. It’s a sticky wicket since Vail was supposedly the last person to see Radek alive on a past job gone wrong.
Vail grudgingly takes the gig, partly for the chance to clear his name. But he gets saddled with a millennial minder – analyst Kate who’s gung-ho to prove herself as a field agent. She’s by-the-book to Vail’s loose cannon, setting up the classic odd couple dynamic. Think Riggs and Murtaugh squabbling from Lethal Weapon.
So our mismatched partners arrive amid ancient ruins and white-washed alleys to untangle Radek’s scheme. Everyone seems to harbor hidden agendas as the bodies pile up. Is Radek out for revenge against the CIA brass that left him for dead? Is he in cahoots with shadowy Greek tycoons? Could there be a turncoat in the Agency’s midst? Through double-crosses and clumsy romances, the clues inch Vail and Kate closer to Radek’s endgame.
It’s a serviceable if cluttered plot aiming for an Air Force One vibe of intrigue at 30,000 feet. But unlike the streamlined Harrison Ford classic, The Bricklayer often crumbles under the weight of too many undeveloped angles and stock characters. Still, there’s enough bricks stacked to yield a decent foundation. Fans of throwback espionage yarns may be intrigued to puzzle out the heavy machinations, even if our hero seems to long for the clarity of just laying mortar on his worksite instead of hunting his volatile ex-buddy.
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From Walls to Brawls—Harlin’s Staged Mayhem
Any chat about The Bricklayer has to start by tipping the cap to director Renny Harlin. The Finnish vet cut his teeth helming Die Hard and Cliffhanger era extravaganzas, and he brings that same playful flair here. Make no mistake – Harlin is the project’s not-so-secret MVP.
Known for orchestrating ambitious, gravity-defying action, Harlin earns his keep crafting several memorable dust-ups. The centerpiece comes when Vail trades blows atop a half-finished skyscraper against the brooding Greek skyline. It’s a doozy of a brawl, shot almost like violent ballet. Harlin’s roving camera puts us right in the fray as Vail and his foes crash through precarious planks and dangling tethers. The director accents the wince-inducing fisticuffs with occasional slow motion for extra oomph.
Throughout, Harlin squeezes all he can from the sunny Aegean locations, whether it’s bustling cafes or a hillside car chase that pays homage to his The Long Kiss Goodnight. There’s also some stylish shadowy stuff like Vail skulking with flashlight through a ship’s moody bowels. If it all looks a bit sleek and digital compared to Harlin’s 90s heyday, at least he minimized the CGI. Expect vibrant cinematography and the director’s trademark lavish chops.
That said, for all his strengths staging practical stunts, Harlin still leans on green screen more than one might hope. Many backdrops have that artificial look, especially the laughable establishing shots introducing Vail perched on his open brickwork platform. I guess laying bricks all day with scenic vistas was deemed insufficiently dramatic! But audiences should mainly focus on the quality fisticuffs, not the sometimes fake-looking atmospherics. Taken as a whole, Harlin delivers his usual craft and visual splendor.
A Column of Supporting Talent
In the lead role of Steve Vail, Aaron Eckhart brings the necessary flinty gravitas and physical presence. With his craggy face and 6’0” frame, you buy him equally as a hard-boiled company man and a solo bricklayer itching for a cold one after his shift. Eckhart nicely balances Vail’s ruthless hand-to-hand combat skills with lighter moments like quipping with his young sidekick. After fading from the A-list, it’s a sturdy comeback vehicle for the actor even if this lone wolf stays at arm’s length emotionally.
As by-the-book foil Kate, Nina Dobrev flashes sufficient moxie to not wilt amid the macho antics. But she lacks the charisma and comic timing to leave a major dent. It’s no fault of Dobrev – she and Eckhart simply share the chemistry of oil and water. Their Odd Couple banter falls flat, lacking the crackling heat of something like Lethal Weapon’s sparring partners. A more eccentric personality opposite Eckhart’s stoic heavy lifter might have better meshed.
As shadowy antagonist Radek, Clifton Collins Jr. makes the most of his limited screen time. Painted as a sympathetic figure twisted by past CIA sins, Collins and Eckhart share trickier history that plays effectively in their tense reunions. It’s a relationship that could have used more nurturing, but Collins maximizes his moments.
In the end this is Eckhart’s show, and he carries the load capably. The surrounding players like Tim Blake Nelson as Eckhart’s superior and Ilfenesh Hadera as a Greece-based operative do yeoman’s work in thinly-written support duties. You wish the script fleshed them out further. But much like the sturdy bricks Vail slaps into place, Eckhart and Collins form the backbones to shoulder this serviceable B-movie diversion. Just don’t expect too many stirring soliloquies from our emotionally muted headliners.
Echoes of Action Classics Past
Nostalgia wafts through The Bricklayer like brick dust. This is a film that tries mimicking beloved thrillers of decades gone by. Inevitably it pales beside those icons, handicapped by thin characters and a convoluted plot. But flickers of inspiration pierce the mundane smoke for fans of throwback, brawny Hollywood action.
Harlin’s smashing set pieces recall his 90’s hot streak of films like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight. There are worser blueprints! Aaron Eckhart lacks the sheer charisma of vintage era Bruce or Sly to fully shoulder such dreams. But damn if he doesn’t attack the task energetically. Originally conceived with Scottish beefcake Gerard Butler in mind, The Bricklayer needs an actor willing to get down and dirty with fisticuffs selling the illusion. Say what you will about Eckhart’s casting, dude brings his lunchpail.
The spy plot juggles tones between engrossing page-turner and flat procedural, aiming for Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan thrillers but hitting more of a Patriot Games vibe. Less political intrigues, more brute force problem solving from loner freelancers. The balance between thinking-man suspense and visceral action doesn’t fully coalesce.
What does gel nicely is the film’s modern yet familiar texture. The Bricklayer harkens to Hollywood’s lost art of the well-oiled mid-budget star vehicle – slick but not mega-budget, intriguing enough but not gunning for Oscars gold. Like∅f sturdy Airport novels became two-hour potboilers, down to the pulpy title. It’s comfort food viewing; an undemanding flashback easily enjoyed with pizza delivery and a six pack on the couch later. Just keep expectations in check – this brick house is modestly built, mirroring the craftsmanship of Eckhart’s nominal trade.
A Syncopated Cutting Rhythm
The Bricklayer aims to bake a jazz soundtrack into its DNA via lead character Steve Vail’s affinity for Miles and Coltrane. He’s constantly popping earbuds to blast funky horns and syncopated beats while laying bricks or cracking skulls. It’s a nice character touch that reinforces Vail’s loner nonconformity. Trouble is, there’s no iconic jazz needle drop during a centerpiece action scene paying it off. Lethal Weapon’s brass-knuckled showdown fueled by holiday saxophone comes to mind. The opportunity for musical momentum goes missing.
Instead the film relies on a workmanlike score that amps tension without dazzling. It gets the job done propelling us through shootouts and the big roof fight with suitable adrenaline. And editor Denis Carlin generally assembles the running, jumping, and punching with clarity and attention to geography. Carlin brings extensive collaborations with director Renny Harlin, knowing how to showcase his staged chaos. If anything the pacing lags a tick too long, especially with a few false endings that play more like brick jokes about Vail’s occupation rather than satisfying narrative payoffs.
Still at under two hours The Bricklayer moves briskly enough to not wear out its welcome. A little tightening in the third act with smoother plot mechanics would improve continuity. But overall there’s enough bricks constantly getting stacked here to maintain interest up to the climax even if it feels stretched like mortar over too large a foundation. The editing chops match the lead character’s workman ethic even if we’re starved for flashes of jazzy inspiration.
This Brick House is No Architectural Marvel…But Gets the Job Done
Like Steve Vail slapping mortar atop his worksite, The Bricklayer constructs a reasonably sturdy if unremarkable slab of genre entertainment. Harlin’s stalwart direction and Aaron Eckhart’s flinty lead performance give the spy escapade sufficient backbone even as flaws chip away at its façade. For action junkies, it should sufficiently fill that explosive cinema craving despite failings.
In the end it’s a passably engaging diversion unlikely to linger long in memory or launch the kind of franchise its Bond-lite ambitions might aspire towards. The convoluted plot overstuffed with shadowy players denies characters room to captivate our emotions. And lagging energy down the backstretch indicates shaky infrastructure.
Yet glints of nostalgia permeate for fans able to key into the film’s throwback vibe. Harlin revisits his Die Hard and Cliffhanger era pomp while Eckhart manfully shoulders the no-nonsense thrills. The bare-bones Bricklayer won’t join those classics, but its sturdy construction sustains our goodwill as a minor blast from the past.
As January fare, you could choose far worse options to flee the chill and doldrums outside. Is The Bricklayer primed for year-end accolades? Hardly. Will its modest achievements rewrite spy cinema history? Negative. But for ninety brisk minutes of fisticuffs, bullets and macho banter, Harlin and Eckhart deliver exactly the graceful amusing diversion needed from a winter weekend watch. Sometimes you simply want comfort food viewing rather than haute cuisine.
If nothing else, The Bricklayer cements lead Aaron Eckhart near the upper ranks of current action handymen. Like his character meticulously rebuilding facades one brick at a time, Eckhart restores some gloss to a fading cinematic tradition—the plausible everyman turned two-fisted dynamo in crazy circumstances. It may not qualify as architect-level artistry, but gets your hearth warm on a cold night.
The Bricklayer won't go down as an action classic, but it builds enough solid thrills and retro appeal to satisfy genre fans, even if the plot gets muddled. Thanks to director Renny Harlin’s flair for showmanship and a committed Aaron Eckhart performance, this spy escapade stacks up reasonably well for popcorn entertainment. Just don't expect the sturdiest foundation beneath all the explosive fun.
- Renny Harlin's strong direction and staging of action sequences
- Aaron Eckhart's solid lead performance
- Throwback vibe to 80s/90s action movies
- Good pacing that doesn't overstay its welcome
- Derivative, convoluted plot
- Lack of chemistry between Eckhart and Nina Dobrev
- Too much reliance on CGI and green screens
- Underdeveloped characters