The Review: Picture Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Replace the mindless zombies with random gang-members and the old country house with a nearly abandoned police station in the middle of a desolate inner-city neighborhood. Now you’ve got the simple but effective premise that drives this magnificent budget action picture from the golden age of exploitation film. No wonder this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s personal favorites (and referenced several times in his script for From Dusk Till Dawn), as it’s about as cool as these kind of flicks come. In the hands of another director, the film’s mildly contrived premise may have resulted in a forgettable B-movie, but Carpenter does several things to make it work. Each of the plot strands are intercut in such a way that even though it takes half of the movie to reach the center-piece of the film, the siege of the police station, the film is consistently interesting.
The time devoted to establishing the films premise helps to develop the character of Napoleon Wilson, introduce Bishop and the situation regarding the police precinct, and provide a motive behind the street gang’s actions.Even though most the characters are two-dimensional, each of them serve a clear purpose in advancing the plot(besides the secretary that gets killed….well, maybe that was her purpose). These elements help to retain a suspension of disbelief so that when the gang does attack the precinct, it’s easy to buy. There are no superfluous plot pieces and it seems to head in a definite direction throughout, so the film maintains a brisk pace. Made on a meager budget of a little over one hundred grand, Carpenter’s film looks like one of 10 times that, thanks to his skill with the camera. Much more advanced than his previous feature, Dark Star, Assault is filled with expertly handled shots and nicely framed widescreen photography, giving it a professional look. The main set of the film, the interior of the police station, looks as real as any seen on film. Although Carpenter hadn’t fully developed his musical skills, the score to Assault is effective in setting a mood, even if repetitive.
Also credited as the editor, Carpenter shows aptitude in the assembly of action scenes, particularly the shoot-out involving Bishop, Wilson and the gang members, in which he manages to make simple actions exciting. Also impressive is the assembly of the exterior precinct sequences. With the use of POV shots Carpenter creates the illusion of the desolate station surroundings, despite being filmed in totally different locations. Characteristic of most budget pictures, the acting in Assault is a little weak, with the exception of Darwin Josten who has a memorable turn as the anti-hero Napoleon Wilson. He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s a likable one. Wilson is a precursor to the anti-heroes that would show up in subsequent Carpenter films, such as Snake Plissken in Escape From New York or John Nada in They Live. He captures every scene he’s in as the cynical outsider who meets his problems with an apathetic attitude. Some of the other acting is particularly poor, especially a scene where Laurie Zimmer(Leigh)is shot in the arm and she doesn’t even flinch! As a Carpenter fan, I feel that Assault is one of his best works, and as a film fan, I feel that it is a minimalist action masterpiece. If you are interested in budget films or Carpenter’s work, this is a must see. In fact, if you are interested in movies at all this one should be on your rental list.