Every time I watch a single-location film done well, I think all the possibilities have now been exhausted and there is no way another filmmaker will be able to raise the bar on the very tricky task of taking one room and making it watchable for roughly 90 minutes. I am always glad to find that this is not true, as in the case of Pawn.
The film is set primarily in a local diner. It is late at night, and to the cop (Forest Whittaker) that walks in for his regular cup of coffee and game of chess, it looks like business as usual. But it isn’t. He has just walked into a middle of a robbery and he has no idea who the patrons are and who the criminal is. This is the theme for the rest of the night – nothing is as it seems.
It’s hard to discuss the film without giving away plot twists which are essential to your enjoyment of the film, and they are done quite elegantly. What can be mentioned are the characters and performances. The diner is held up by a group of criminals led by the acid-tongued Derrick (The SHIELD’s Michael Chiklis, very committed to his character’s British-accent). He’s not shy – either with guns or words. Having a terrible case of ‘wrong time, wrong place’ is Nick Davenport (the very capable Sean Faris). He has been released from prison—just that very afternoon—after serving a three-month sentence for grand theft auto. He promises his young, pregnant wife (Nikki Reed) that things will be different for them this time around and goes to the local diner for a meeting. He is in the bathroom at the time of the robbery so when the cops arrive, his record immediately makes him a suspect in this crime. Avatar’s Stephen Lang plays Charlie, the man behind the counter of the diner, who tries his best to keep the safe hidden from the criminals. Then there’s the mysterious white-haired man who sits silently in the corner watching everything play out.
At 88-minutes run time, Pawn is a tight, tense drama that does two things very well – it raises the stakes without resorting to contrived manipulation of events, and tells a non-linear story without making it confusing. Even the criminals are refreshing – there’s no big philosophical agenda. Just good old fashioned, real-world robbery. This cuts out the BS in a big way. The film has no extra fat, and no sticking points that pull you out of the movie watching experience. If I had one grouse, it’s that the end felt like it played out very quickly.
Final Analysis: Pawn does not waste time – from the opening scene, you know this is going to be tense, quietly clever and fast paced.
My Advice: Rent this right away.