Movie Review – Bricklayer, The (2024)

Principal Cast : Aaron Eckhart, Nina Dobrev, Clifton Collins, Tim Blake Nelson, Ilfenesh Hadera, Ori Pfeffer, Oliver Trevena, John T Woods, Veronica Ferres, Johanna Harlin, Konstantin Adaev, Zachary Willis.
Synopsis: An ex-CIA agent is reactivated when an extortionist targets the agency.


As far as noun-friendly film titles, The Bricklayer is right up there among the most aptly named. For every negotiator, corruptor, beekeeper, doorman, mechanic or accountant, there’s always some sleepy little C-movie like The Bricklayer to come along and make being a tradesman seem a lot more interesting than it might otherwise be. And boy howdy, is this one a derivative piece of shit, let me tell you, no matter how sturdy Aaron Eckhart might be as the titular layer of bricks, or how sexy co-star Nina Dobrev is in trying to make her role passably interesting. The mighty Renny Harlin gives this turd a heavy polishing but not even he, the man who once delighted us in the 90’s with Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Cliffhanger or Deep Blue Sea, can manifest a film of any kind of quality with this archly written and profoundly idiotic screenplay to hand.

Eckhart plays CIA operative Steve Vail, who is partnered with up-and-coming fellow agent Kate (Dobrev) to track down a mysteriously resurrected rogue agent in Radek (Clifton Collins, given far too little to do here) across Greece, all in the name of protecting the Agency’s reputation in Europe. Throw in CIA Director O’Malley (Tim Blake Nelson), one of Vail’s former lovers in Tye (Ilfenesh Hadera) and the penchant for plenty of brutal smackdowns these kinds of films love to throw around, and you have a recipe for potentially awesome spy-vs-spy nonsense that pumps up the blood pressure and generates some excitement.

Sadly, The Bricklayer isn’t a very good movie. As I mentioned, it’s hugely derivative, with several plot twists I spotted coming three miles out, and a double-cross I noted early on that proved to be correct. Harlin’s action aesthetic is diluted by an indifferent budget stretched to breaking point, and plenty of woeful green-screen rear-projection effects to pull you right out of the movie. It’s a formulaic, basic espionage affair, this one, offering globetrotting nonsense mixing Bond, Bourne and a touch of John Wick, although it’s fair to say John Wick would absolutely clean Vail’s clock and then some. Apparently the film is an adaptation of a book of the same name, and without reading it I’d suggest the book is perhaps a lot smarter than the adaptation is, or at least a lot more fun. Bricklaying, which isn’t really explained all that well between the bullets, beauties and balletic violence, seems like a pretty silly noun to use for your hero, linked to the action as tangentially as Eckhart’s role is, and when the final moment comes to deliver the “reason” behind Vail’s apparent love of bricks it’s, well, laughable. Nowhere near as silly as The Beekeeper, you understand, but while the Statham movie leant hard into the stupidity of it all, The Bricklayer attempts to make the subtext of the title feel more nuanced and it… again, it’s laughable.

I’ll give him this, however, Aaron Eckhart at least tries. The character is a blend of every high-octane superspy you’ve ever watched, mashed into a formless avatar pretending to be a human being, despite how growly and grizzled Eckhart’s voice and face try to be here. As he bashes and smashes his way through a confusing plot of subordinates, henchmen and stool pigeons you sorta ache for the time Liam Neeson took apart half of Paris in Taken; with a better script, larger budget and smarter direction this could have achieved similar cult status, but sadly I think you’ll find this layer of bricks hidden within the bargain bin of cinematic history. A shame, because Eckhart has the presence and gravitas to turn this film into a barnstormer, occasionally legitimately looking jacked up as he takes on a barrage of bad guys. He’s just given nothing to work with, an exposition-heavy subplot involving Radek and his family or something makes for heady, overcooked thematic depth, but it’s misplaced within a meandering CIA MacGuffin about the Greek Foreign Minister and a list of journalists being killed.

Nina Dobrev handles the feminine side of the film well enough, again given little to do but making as good a fist of it as she can. She’s half sex-appeal, half ass-kicking punching bag and while never participating in the film to the point she’s active in the plot, her presence adds a sense of exotic friction between Vale and Kate that makes them a solid pairing. Tim Blake Nelson is his typical proto-slime self as the Director of the CIA, O’Malley, and whenever he pops up on screen you feel the need to go have a shower to wash of the creepy feel that comes with him. Clifton Collins is an actor who seems far too often shoehorned into minor or supporting roles that don’t allow him to flex his dramatic muscle, and The Bricklayer is yet another example of this. As Radek, he’s given very little active input into the film, a shadowy, ghostly voice and presence lurking on the edges but never quite manifesting as the Big Bad the film requires. His motivations to do what he does here are shaky at best. At least, they haven’t translated from the novel very well, in any case. A welcome supporting performance by Ilfenesh Hadera, as Vail’s former love interest, piques my interest but again, the actress is merely there for looks and very little character development.

That’s not to say they don’t try making the film interesting or emotional. There are glimpses of literary backstory at moments, allusions made via dialogue to historical or thematic character development that give the illusion of the film occurring within a wider universe, but Harlin’s propensity to get to the next action sequence puts paid to these moments working for the audience. A brief interlude between Vail and Kate on a stair after a bruising encounter with a henchman starts on a very intellectually intriguing note but within two or three sentences moves into the expected “we have to trace the call and find the thingy” generics. The Bricklayer has just enough tantalisation to make you think you’ll get something meaty to dig into on a connective level with the characters, and then Harlin swerves away from that for a car chase. Again, this is a very, very ordinary film that lives hidden by the shadows of its subgenre brethren, notably the Bourne franchise and the aforementioned John Wick. This also-ran noun-based title is silly, boring, and utterly wastes the solid cast surrounding a quite exotic setting (the Greek city of Thessaloniki takes pride of place) with a terrible plot and nonsense action sequences that are positively lifeless. The Bricklayer is a terrible film.

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