THE BRICKLAYER Review: Everything Fits Together

Aaron Eckhart and Nina Dobrev star in director Renny Harlin's latest action picture.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
THE BRICKLAYER Review: Everything Fits Together

Clouds of dust and shafts of sunlight are Renny Harlin's best friends.

The Bricklayer
The film opens Friday, January 5, in theaters and On Demand/Digital, via Vertical.

It's tempting to attach the film's title to any description of the director's meticulous craft.

Like many bricklayers -- and journeyman directors -- Renny Harlin's craftsmanship is underappreciated. Breaking out to wider attention with his third feature, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), Harlin became known for his raucous action-adventures, everything from Die Hard 2 (1990) to the superb Cliffhanger (1993) to the superior The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) to the ridiculously fun Deep Blue Sea (1999).

His less successful pictures during that fabulous run -- The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990) and Cutthroat Island (1995) -- reinforced the notion that Harlin needed a good script to wrap his action sequences around, which was again the case with Driven (2001), Mindhunters (2001) and The Covenant (2006). (The ill-fated re-tooling Exorcist: The Beginning, 2004, deserves its own disastrous consideration.) In the past decade or so, Harlin has directed both narrative series and feature films, among which I've only seen 5 Days of War (2011), The Legend of Hercules (2014), and Skiptrace (2016), none of which truly stand out in my memory.

Watching The Bricklayer reminded how much fun Renny Harlin movies can be, even if the characters never peer deeply into their souls. And that's because his action sequences are composed with swirling cameras rather than nervous edits. They display a grace and dexterity that seems lighter than air, yet always land with an oomph and an ouch that feels relatively realistic.

Set in and shot in Greece by Finnish cinematographer Matti Eerikäinen, who has previously collaborated with Harlin on Class Reunion 3 (2021) and Refuge (2023), the film makes ample use of sunny lighting to over-illuminate everything so that the action is often bathed in heavenly glory, which may seem incongruous, whether the scene takes place in a hotel room, a cafe, or a warehouse, yet it makes everything feel like a fantastical version of real life, like a Technicolor fairy tale.

The lighting fits Aaron Eckhart and Nina Dobrev as an ex-CIA agent and his new handler, respectively, who are empowered by CIA boss Tim Blake Nelson to pursue former CIA agent Clifton Collins Jr., presumed dead, who has started killing people and staging the murders to pin the blame on the CIA. Current CIA station chief Ilfenesh Hadera also gets involved.

Hanna Weg and Pete Travis are credited for the screenplay, adapting a novel by Paul Lindsay (using the pen name Noah Boyd), first published in 2010. The film's novelistic origins can be seen in the plot's clearly structured narrative and in its insistence on tying up all loose ends.

Aaron Eckhart is ideally suited to play the lead character, Vail, who is built to take charge in a (mostly) humorless thriller. Like most former CIA agents (in movies), Vail remains in top physical shape and is ready in an instant to leap back into active duty, able to fall from tall buildings without serious injury and ruthlessly murder opposition agents without a moment's hesitation or regret.

If a Venn diagram were constructed to illustrate the connection with Vail and Kate, his new CIA handler, humor might be the area where they intersect. Vail conducts his business with serious intent, only occasionally pausing to reflect, while Kate (Nina Dobrev) is an office hound, promoted to the field and desperate to prove she belongs.

The 'odd couple' pairing is that Eckhart is best at cringy drama and Dobrev is best at wry humor; they don't quite match, and I was glad that the script didn't try to force them together in any sort of awkward, inauthentic romantic pairing. (That's left for Eckhart and Ilfenesh Hadera to try to spark a candle between them.)

What rules the day are the supple action sequences, which can be deadly but rely mostly upon physical fights between talented stunt people. (Oleg Gostik served as fight choreographer and does a terrific job.) It's a pleasure to watch the camera jockey back and forth smoothly, and makes it easy to get caught up in the action that unfolds throughout the picture.

The Bricklayer concludes with Vail explaining what appeals to him about laying bricks for a living. That explanation also serves to describe Renny Harlin's enduring appeal as a director: he makes everything fit together, and that's immensely satisfying to experience.

The Bricklayer

  • Renny Harlin
  • Noah Boyd
  • Matt Johnson
  • Hanna Weg
  • Aaron Eckhart
  • Nina Dobrev
  • Clifton Collins Jr.
Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
Aaron EckhartNina DobrevRenny HarlinNoah BoydMatt JohnsonHanna WegClifton Collins Jr.ActionThriller

Around the Internet