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The Bricklayer (2023) Review

We’ve had The Gardener, The Baker, The Painter, and now The Bricklayer joins the list of men of violence who’ve taken up peaceful professions only to find out that in some jobs you can never truly leave your past behind.

Steve Vail (Aaron Eckhart, Ambush, The Core) was one of the C.I.A.’s most dependable agents, even if his lack of respect for procedure made him less than popular with his superiors. Disillusioned, he now finds solace in masonry, “When I hold a brick in my hand I know exactly what it is and what it will do every single time. Its form is its function”

Radek (Clifton Collins Jr., Nightmare Alley, Westworld) was a C.I.A. asset working under Vail until he was compromised and his family murdered. He went rogue looking for revenge and Vail was assigned to eliminate him, which he did. Or at least he thought he did. Now Radek is back, leaving a trail of dead critics of US intelligence activities as part of a plan to blackmail the agency for a fortune in bitcoin.

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Of course Vail ends up coming out of retirement and sent back into the field in an off the record capacity, and with a rookie partner, Kate Bannon (Nina Dobrev, The Vampire Diaries, The Final Girls).

Renny Harlin (5 Days of War, Refuge) directs from a script by Hanna Weg (Septembers of Shiraz, Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet) and Pete Travis who should know a thing or two about these kinds of films because, while he didn’t write it, he directed one of the best action films of this century, Dredd.

Possibly the source material, Noah Boyd’s novel The Bricklayer, was the problem, because the film’s plot is very much a by the numbers affair. The dead man with a grudge who refuses to stay dead, Vail refusing to come out of retirement until he’s attacked, the revelations about the dealings between Vail and Radek back in the day and Tye (Ilfenesh Hadera, Oldboy, Godfather of Harlem), the local station chief who happens to be Vail’s ex. Even the setting, a Greek tourist resort, feels like the budget version of the Bond franchise’s exotic locations.

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Balancing this off are The Bricklayer’s action scenes. Harlin may be years past his best work and the budget well short of what he had to for Driven and Die Hard 2, but he can still channel his early films like Born American and Prison to deliver effective cinematic violence on limited funds. Right from the rooftop fight, in the rain of course, that brings Vail back into the game, Harlin shows he can still make the most of what he has.

Highlights include an assassination in a crowded square, a shootout against a small army in a warehouse, and a high speed chase involving, in another budget Bond moment, a modified Mercedes AMG instead of an Aston-Martin. None of it very original, but all effectively done, apart from the CGI blood and backgrounds. It’s enough to elevate The Bricklayer above much of its comepetion.

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Eckhart probably isn’t most people’s idea of an action hero, but he does a solid job as Vail. Dobrev is decent as Bannon, but the chemistry between them isn’t quite right, their constant back and forth between not trusting and caring about each other felt a bit forced. As the villain, Clifton Collins Jr. carries off a complex role nicely despite limited screen time. In supporting roles, both Tim Blake Nelson (Ghosts of the Ozarks, Old Henry) and Oliver Trevena (Plane, Wire Room) are given too little to do as Bannon and Vail’s boss and a black market dealer respectively.

January and February are not known for quality film releases, but The Bricklayer is much better than I expected. The novel is the first of a series, and if they can make them this entertaining, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them reach the screen.

Vertical Entertainment has released The Bricklayer in theaters as well as on VOD and Digital Platforms.

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