The Tournament Review
Watching The Tournament and realizing that it cost around twelve million dollars to make kinda says a lot about current Hollywood trends. After all here’s a film that’s just as derivative as most action fare these days, with a disposable narrative and big name stars, but delivering exactly what it says on the tin whilst looking just as good as something made for ten times the cost. A shame then that it’s been relegated as a straight to DVD feature - surely a sign of marketing gone insane? Scott Mann’s debut feature had quite the troubled production however. It began life several years ago as a low-budget British indie flick, which had been trying to secure financing during shoots in Bulgaria and in and around Manchester and Gateshead, but ultimately found itself thrown in the can when nobody stepped forward to help after it overran its original budget. By the time that the Weinstein Company expressed interest, the film found itself going back to the drawing board, enlisting a new cast alongside a more skilled production unit.
The story goes that every seven years thirty of the world’s greatest assassins are assembled for the ultimate death-match, which by tradition usually takes place in a small unsuspecting town. The rules are simple: Kill or die; the last man standing will receive not only ten million dollars in cash but also the title of world’s number one. Behind the scenes a shady organisation monitors every action; security cameras are hacked into and communication devices tampered with, all for the general amusement of wealthy gamblers who have come from all over the world to witness the greatest match on earth.
Seven years ago Joshua Harlow (Ving Rhames) was the last man standing. It should have ended with just that, but when his wife is killed by another contract killer he’s brought back into play - tipped off that the murderer is now amongst this year’s contestants. It’s Middlesbrough’s turn to host this time around, much to the misfortune of the drunken Father Joseph MacAvoy (Robert Carlyle), who has been shunned by most of the local townsfolk. When a new twist involving explosive chips and tracking devices is added to proceedings, MacAvoy soon finds himself as an unwilling participant in the game of death. Saved by the feisty Lai Lai Zhen (Kelly Hu), who is also playing for her life, the pair soon strike up an unlikely friendship. With lunatic hit-men closing in and just 24 hours on the clock, it’s only a matter of time before one victor is left - or worse splattered across northern England.
The Tournament is a film that would be all too easy to shoot down. The storyline has absolutely nothing of real value; most of its characters are underwritten stock-archetypes and the whole mystery surrounding events couldn’t be any more predictable, especially given that we only spend time with four or five players out of thirty - most of whom are anonymous fodder who get dispensed with during one or two quick montages. But with all this it doesn’t seem to be a feature that’s particularly bothered about eschewing a dozen or so clichés born out of the revenge thriller genre in which it’s comfortably made itself a part of.
What the film does right is to deliver on its promise of being an “explosive, action-loaded thriller”. It really is. At 90 minutes in length, Mann’s picture dispenses with trivial matters and focuses predominantly on maintaining a break-neck pace that barely affords the viewer time to blink. The director helms all of this confidently enough and ratchets a decent amount of tension despite any of the script’s shortcomings, while the northern England setting provides a neat backdrop for our world-weary travelers. Particularly gratifying is the film’s hard R rating, which sees it go balls to the wall in delivering graphic, over-the-top stylized carnage every few minutes, which is sadly all too often missed in today’s watered down climate. A good old fashioned chase-’em-up, featuring a well established cast who give more than enough value for money, The Tournament is an impressively staged assault on the eyes and ears which doesn’t outstay its welcome.
The Tournament is presented anamorphically at approximately 1.78:1. Digitally shot, we have a very clean and nicely detailed image for both wide and close-ups that hasn’t undergone a great deal of post tinkering it would seem - the noticeable lack of grain leaving the film a tad shiny and berift of any real grit. However, tones are accurately displayed in light of the film’s contrasty look and black levels carry a strong amount of depth. Compression is handled remarkably well and there is nothing major to report, save for some high frequency edge enhancement and minor digital noise during select night scenes.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is also strong. Although I’d complain that certain gun shots sound a bit too muffled across the rear channels, there’s very little else of fault here. Dialogue is crisp and well balanced across the front speakers, while the rears serve up some nice ambient noise and the sub-woofer aggressively pumps out the bass, which is particularly notable during the crazed strip-joint massacre.