A great Laurence Fishburne performance helps this small thriller

Laurence Fishburne highlights this slow burning story which alludes to – and even references – Western tropes. Tension is superb, Firshburne a contract killer trying to murder a small girl, Thomas Jane her defender within an isolated farmhouse.

Fishburne and Jane stand their ground on opposite floors of the home. Jane, injured in the leg by a bullet, holds at the top of the stairs. His character sits there in waiting for much of the film. Challenging camera work must keep these often solitary and repetitive conditions interesting. It does. Standoff works to keep visual flair alive in a movie with hardly any motion. The games between the two men are inherently psychological.

Through this stationary, grueling fight, characters do grow. Each player has suffered loss – Jane his family, the girl her parents, Fishburne his humanity. With minimal use of flashback, Standoff composes a dramatic trio of personality types, and each shares what appears to be an empathetic past.

Standoff does well to eliminate glaring plot holes through dialog, ensuring each side has leverage in the fight.

Cutting between strategies and inserting an element of dwindling time, Standoff puts pressure on each side to come up with a solution. Standoff does well to eliminate glaring plot holes through dialog, ensuring each side has an advantageous strategy in the fight. Solutions are not always intelligent – script writers cannot account for all ways of thinking – but in these circumstances, options are limited and reasonable doubt wins out.

Not enough can be said for Fishburne, providing a dazzling, cold performance which trounces the rest of his co-stars. His ambivalence toward those he kills and evaporated empathy constructs a pure killer. Fishburne’s acting capability jumps through some rather hokey lines too, the type of writing which wants badly to placed within the western genre. Those dialog moments feel desperate.

Standoff could use a better climax. What’s here is foreshadowed repeatedly, as if the script lacks trust in the audience. Some timing becomes convenient as well. With only an 80-minute frame to utilize, Standoff still builds a narrative of people with nothing left to live for – and yet they fight. This day-long showdown puts closure on their grief and in a certain way, their meeting one another helps them cope.

Standoff Blu-ray screen shot 6


Lionsgate produces a typically sharp Blu-ray, aside from some compression problems. The encode carries fine bitrates, yet struggles with banding. A slight smokey haze drifts through the feature and when combined with sunlight streaming in through the windows, the disc begins to show the effects of encoding. Even soft shadows can lead to minor issues.

The rest however is a firm digitally sourced production. Given the enclosed space, Standoff is composed primarily in close-up. Dense lighting tends to focus where needed to achieve deep facial definition. Lighting also crafts superlative contrast and image density. Black levels scream under these conditions.

A handful of exteriors show off a midwestern locale (actually Canada) with plentiful foliage. Tall grass and farmland (into the horizon) poses no challenge. Images capture each blade of grass and leaf on the trees. Resolution and focus work to their peak in a fine tandem.

Familiar color grading takes a bit of zip from the images. Natural outdoor lighting and a cool tint takes away some of the energy. Indoors, auburn hues rule, casting flesh tones with a yellowish glow. Still, it’s appealing.


Sound design reveals the lower-end of the budget. Gunfire is pedestrian and offers limited low-end kick. There is little travel into the rears either as shots ring out.

Standoff’s DTS-HD track isn’t lost on the possibilities of its soundfield. Tracking makes sure objects thrown by Fishburne end up in the rear right surround. It’s a nice touch. Shattering light bulbs flow into the rears, and the house (mostly empty) produces a mild echo. Action scenes balance each of their elements cleanly.


A Fight to the Death doesn’t give much insight into the behind-the-scenes aspects. The dry featurette has pitiful audio quality and recounts much of the plot for seven minutes. Other than trailers, this is it for the disc.

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Laurence Fishburne gives a superlative performance as a contract killer in this excellent thriller.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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