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Great Character Moments in Film #1: SIXTEEN BLOCKS


I just love the turn in SIXTEEN BLOCKS, the moment Bruce Willis goes from drunk deadbeat cop to hero. The entire movie spins on that point and even the camera spins, giving us Willis’s grim, slack face and his suddenly sharp & sober eyes. And he looks around, at the new world he’s just created. And he *runs*.

And of course, as the movie progresses you realise the Willis character, who everyone figured for a fck-up, was *chosen* for his job for that very reason. Because he was a fck-up, and nobody expected him to succeed. So they gave him the job they didn’t want him to succeed on. And he’s cannon fodder, kiddo, he’s completely expendable. And we learn that as Willis realises it, too. And then he’s given that option: ‘keep fucking up and live, or choose something else – and risk dying’.

We know it’s Bruce Willis, so we know what he’s likely to choose. But the case is put so compellingly that even we, the audience, has to think, ‘hmm, maybe take the low road on this one, Bruce’. Even we momentarily forget that the life Willis has been living so far doesn’t look like much a life, doesn’t look like it’s worth saving. “Life’s too long,” Willis says a few minutes before the first turn – the first ‘call to action’, as McKee would call it. Life’s too long. And eventually, Willis obviously realises, ‘THIS life is too long, THIS life is worth risking’.

The only thing I’d change about that decision moment is I’d make the Mos Def character – the character needing to make it the sixteen blocks to the court house – I’d make him less likeable initially. So we wouldn’t be thinking, ‘aw, Bruce, don’t give up on Mos Def, he’s adorable’. I’d make Mos Def truly irritating, so even the expendable Willis character would think, ‘THAT’S the guy that’s expendable’.

– The first in a random series of Great Character Moments in Film. You’re welcome to nominate your own in the comments!


2 responses to “Great Character Moments in Film #1: SIXTEEN BLOCKS”

  1. I am not a fan of Bruce Willis. On the contrary. Especially after I read an interview with one of the best actors Romania has produced, Marcel Iures, in which he recollects some events from the filming of “Hart’s War”. But he has his moments. “The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “Hostage” and “16 Blocks” (made 6 brings something good out of Bruce Willis :) ) have some scenes in which Bruce Willis can act. And this is a moment you chose very well and maybe which makes the movie viewable. Not necessary the characters’ change, but the fck-up character. Of course, it would be interesting to see a less likeable Mos Def.
    You know what comes to my mind right now, “The Year of Living Dangerously” and the amazing interpretation of Linda Hunt. Especially when the realisation that Sukarno’s regime is not what she (actually he since Linda Hunt gives life to Billy Kwan here) thought it was. It is a very good turning point in my opinion.
    But you put me on thoughts and I have to think of other such moments :)
    P.S. Happy Australia Day, Deborah! :)

  2. Gosh, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that film. I’ll have to seek it out again. I love Linda Hunt – wish she’d do more film!

    Thanks for the suggestion. :)