The titular assault in Assault on Precinct 13 doesn’t start until just over halfway through (and not at Precinct 13, but whatever). Until that point, Carpenter methodically lays out the elements to synthesize at the sieged police station. He introduces a tense gang situation, a new lieutenant (Austin Stoker), a convict being transferred to death row (Darwin Joston) and a man (Martin West) possibly unwisely traveling through the ghetto with his daughter (Kim Richards).
The way Carpenter portrays the L.A. ghetto is interesting. It’s empty, quiet and sometimes rather beautiful. He also treats the gang members like zombies–they don’t talk, they have no personalities. They’re just young and multiracial. Assault is a warning against young urban men of all creeds and colors.
Carpenter timestamps the scenes, bringing a scene of reality and commonplace to the film. When the timestamps finally do disappear, it’s because the audience–like the cast–is trapped.
At that point, Assault has its most beautiful sequence. The gang assaulting the police station is using silencers and, as they destroy it, the only sounds are of papers flying, windows breaking and drywall puncturing. It’s otherworldly.
When Carpenter finally does bring in the outside world, the timestamps return and the film’s changed entirely. In the midst of the rushed action, the film becomes about its characters and their relationships.
Great performances from Stoker, Joston, Zimmer and Tony Burton. Charles Cyphers has a nice smaller role. Excellent photography from Douglas Knapp, amazing editing from Carpenter.
Assault‘s a masterpiece.