Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
In director Richard Donner’s film (Screenplay by Richard Wenk) Bruce Willis plays Jack Mosley, a jaded Manhattan police detective with an unsavory past. He trudges through alcohol-hazed days, merely going through the motions of his job. He is upset at the end of his watch to be assigned to escort a petty crook to the federal courthouse to testify at a police corruption trial there. It’s just 16 blocks, so it will not take long, he is assured. How wrong can a person be!
Mos Def plays petty crook Eddie Bunker like a man dedicated to filling every waking moment with words, and words, and words. Within five minutes Jack is sick of Eddie’s torrent of words, but it is scarcely longer that he is also saving his charge’s life when a rogue cop tries to kill his prisoner. In a bar where Jack takes Eddie in order to phone headquarters for help, Jack is confronted by his former partner Frank Nugent (David Morse), who urges Jack to turn over Eddie to him and his colleagues. They will know what to do with him. Jack stubbornly refuses, and thereupon embarks on a journey of danger and discovery that will change his life forever.
As the two men face death in episode after episode, Jack maintains his contempt for Eddie. The latter tells Jack that he is going to go straight, his dream being to open his own bakery where he can pursue his specialty of baking birthday cakes. Jack sneers that he will never change, that he is heading for hard time, like all the other crooks he knows.
I almost skipped this film in the mistaken view that it was just another cop thriller. With Bruce Willis playing his usual role of world weary tough cop. What a pleasant surprise to discover a powerful character transformation drama/comedy. Oh it is an action thriller, like Mission Impossible 3, but so much deeper and thought provoking than the Tom Cruise blockbuster. In a more just world, 16 Blocks would be packing them in, and MI-3 as quickly sent off to the cheap seats theaters!
This will include a spoiler or two, so wait until you see the film before reading further.
1) What did you think of the two main characters when you first saw them? What kind of a cop does Jack seem to be?
2) What is there about Jack that causes him to refuse to turn over Eddie to Frank? How is his perseverance his major character trait?
3) Why do you think he refuses to believe Eddie’s claim that he wants to change his lifestyle? How is Jack like Jeremiah’s view? Once there were penologists who had a more optimistic view of human nature, calling their prisons “reformatories” and speaking of “rehabilitation.” What happened to such views of the treatment of prisoners? Can you think of any politician who does not espouse a “get tough on crime” policy? Why do you think this is so? Do you think the present policy is working, getting the criminals off the street?
4) How does Eddie show that he is changing when Jack commandeers the bus? What do you think of his conversation with the little girl? Why does he say that today is his birthday?
5) Were you surprised at Jack’s revelation at the courthouse? How is what he does a type of “taking up the cross”?
6) What did you think of the ending? Of the name that Eddie gives to his bakery?