The Bricklayer


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Bricklayer
"The dialogue is terrible but it has enough energy and spirit to entertain many viewers nonetheless."

Published in 2010 by Noah Boyd, aka real life retired FBI agent Paul Lindsay, who would go on to pen a sequel before his death from leukaemia in 2011, The Bricklayer is an espionage thriller which quickly attracted the interest of a number of filmmakers. it eventually fell into the hands on Renny Herlin which is fortunate because although it sticks closely to formula for most of its running time, it is at least delivered with flair. The dialogue is terrible but it has enough energy and spirit to entertain many viewers nonetheless.

It centres on former special agent Steve Vail (Aaron Eckhart), who is known as ‘the Bricklayer’ for the unusually sensible reason that when he’s not jetting around the world unravelling conspiracies and foiling assassins, he earns his crust on building sites. It also seems fitting because Eckhart has a face that looks a bit like a brick and because, in places, one feels one is being hit over the head with one as the plot is (over)explained. In a prequel we see a journalist in a shadowy hotel room examining documents which she has just been given by a black-clad stranger with a scarred face. “This kind of scandal could destroy the US,” she gasps as she reads them, as if the world would even notice another US scandal in these days of plenty. They talk for a little while, and then the man kills her. She’s the third such journalist murdered recently, says an announcer on the news, and soon we are in the company of special agents who theorise that the killing are an attempt to frame and blackmail the CIA (again, quite how this would work is unclear). Their solution? Find the Bricklayer.

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He’s gruff. He’s resentful. He likes to do things his own way, much to the chagrin of rookie agent Kate (Nina Dobrev) whose job it is to get him onside. He’s initially reluctant to get involved, but when someone close to the conspiracy come looking for him, he has no choice. This provides the film’s opening action number, a fight on a rain-slicked rooftop by night, which establishes that Harlin still has the magic. Visceral sound design by Ryan Nowak adds to the effect, ensuring that we understand that people are getting hurt, and whilst Eckhart might not be the world’s most nuanced actor, he has world-weariness down to a tee.

For any fan of action, Harlin’s colour palette - the mustard, the terracotta, the teal that he was using before it became a thing – is instantly recognisable. It softens as we shift into daylight scenes but never quite goes away, and there’s a confidence about the colour work and framing which elevates this beyond the slew of actioners available on digital these days. Subsequent fight scenes and a car chase deliver more of what fans will be looking for. In a nightclub scene, dancers continue to do their thing in the background, John Wick-style, as Vail lays about the bad guys.

The development of the main bad guy is even less subtle. Someone should really research just how many villains of the past 40 years are called Victor. This one has a tragic past of the sort more commonly given to heroes, so there’s that, but his conviction that people in the US will rise up if their learn that their government has done bad things makes it hard to believe that he’s smart enough to have risen to top level Eastern European gang boss status in the first place. He and Vail have a tangled past and this ought to generate emotional moments but the chemistry isn’t there. Dobrev, however, does well in her role and brings something real to it, despite the ridiculous lines she’s obliged to utter.

Flimsy and over-familiar though it is, The Bricklayer will no doubt tick all the right boxes for some viewers, and there’s a sense that everyone involved was having fun, which always helps. It’s far from Harlin’s best work, but where recent action thrillers are concerned, you could do a lot worse.

Reviewed on: 17 Jan 2024
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An ex-CIA agent is reactivated when an extortionist targets the agency.

Director: Renny Harlin

Writer: Matt Johnson, Marc Moss, Pete Travis, Hanna Weg, based on the book by Noah Boyd

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Nina Dobrev, Clifton Collins Jr, Tim Blake Nelson, Ilfenesh Hadera, Oliver Trevena, Akis Sakellariou, Ori Pfeffer

Year: 2023

Runtime: 150 minutes

Country: US, Bulgaria, Greece


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