Standoff is clearly a low-budget production. This is not evident in its aesthetics, which are okay, but in its very concept. It is a story that takes place in one location, with the characters barely moving from their positions, with very little action taking place. The film tries to develop tension while working within these limitations, and sometimes it even succeeds. Standoff is deeply flawed, but it’s hard not to give it credit for the things that it does.
Twelve-year-old Isabel is taking pictures at a graveyard when she witnesses an assassin (Laurence Fishburne) murdering three people. Unfortunately, the assassin notices her, and starts chasing her down. She runs into the home of Carter (Thomas Jane), an army veteran haunted by some recent events. Carter is all but ready to kill himself, but he instead throws himself into protecting Isabel. Their initial clash leaves both men wounded and at a stalemate. With only one shell in his twenty-two-gauge shotgun, Carter tries to fend off this professional killer.
The movie does a decent job of setting up its stalemate. Things move pretty quickly to get the characters where they need to be, and the film deftly introduces the details that would keep any one of them from making a move. Both characters are wounded. The house is in the middle of nowhere. Carter left his phone downstairs. The assassin isn't one to call for help. Carter only has one shotgun shell left, but he's managed to keep that fact from his assailant. The film smartly puts all its pieces into position, setting up a powder keg ready to explode.
Except it really doesn't do that. What follows is mostly static. In theory, this is a movie about two equally matched forces trying to outwit each other. The assassin would try a bunch of schemes of overcome his disadvantage, and Carter would have to adjust to deal with him, using up resources and escalating the danger. But this movie is content to mostly have them talking. The film presents this as a game of psychological warfare, but it doesn't really earn that level of sophistication. It is mildly intriguing at first, but it rarely rises above name-calling. And by the end, the sentiments expressed become tediously repetitive.
Having said that, the stalemate does have its merits, and they mainly lie in the somewhat deranged performances of the two leads. Thomas Jane is always enjoyable as the grizzled mess, the actor adept at conveying a sense of loss and regret that is easily identifiable on screen. And Laurence Fishburne hamming it up is pretty fun as well. And though the direction isn't exactly inspired, it does sometimes put together compelling compositions that take advantage of the limited space and the slowly fading light of this one location.
Standoff isn’t a great movie, but it is occasionally a smart one. It is certainly smart enough to give enough rope to its two veteran leads, allowing them to add plenty of color and personality to what is essentially the story of two men that aren’t doing much of anything for an hour. It needs more action, and a lot less talking, but the film is admirable in what it accomplishes on such a small scale. I’m not entirely that makes it worthy of a trip out to the cinemas, but it is certainly the kind of thing that could fill up an idle ninety minutes of someone’s time.