Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: there’s much that is overly familiar, painfully clichéd and downright odd about cop thriller, Blitz. Mixing the most obvious elements of films like Dirty Harry (a rampaging executioner cop) and Seven (a rampaging executioner criminal) and relocating them to South London, it’s the kind of film where you have to keep checking car number plates to remind yourself that, yes, it is indeed set in the twenty-first century.
Jason Statham stars as Brant, the crumpled, maverick cop you often see in detective fiction, who drinks industrial quantities of brown liquor, beats up suspects and growls politically incorrect remarks at his colleagues. One of the targets of Brant’s insults is dapper, gay Sergeant Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), who likes classical music, healthy dinners and minimalist interior design.
When Aidan Gillen’s sneering killer, Blitz, starts murdering members of the police force apparently at random, Brant and Nash form an uneasy alliance to catch him before he has a chance to strike again. In the process, they have to deal with the tabloid press (embodied by an oddly cast David Morrissey as a rat-bag journalist called Harold), drag information out of assorted snitches, and try to figure out just what the connection is between the killer and a gym called Peacocks.
If this doesn’t sound clichéd enough already, there’s also a funeral in the rain (complete with an aerial shot of black umbrellas) and, as is the case in dozens of other post-Dirty Harry thrillers, the cops in Blitz could do their job better if only pesky barriers such as human rights, political correctness and arrest warrants didn’t stand in their way.
And yet, as by-the-numbers a thriller as Blitz is, it’s still rather good. That it appears to be set in an alternate universe London where a topless man can shoot a policeman point-blank in the middle of a busy street and then simply walk away merely adds to its loopy charm.
For one thing, Aidan Gillen’s extremely odd performance as the killer is seldom less than fascinating to watch. Apparently channelling the memory of Sid Vicious, he struts about in fluorescent plastic shades, rides around on tiny bikes, makes weird phone calls, and does all kinds of imaginatively dreadful things to his victims.
Blitz is like a school bully from hell, a preening narcissist who flushes weaker parties’ heads down toilets, intimidates passers-by, and frightens the wits out of those in authority. Well, apart from Jason Statham, of course. It’s established early on that Statham’s Brant fears no one, and Blitz’s titters and sneers merely make the grizzled cop glower a bit harder and open and close his fists a little more rapidly.
As a vehicle for Jason Statham, Blitz is just about the perfect film. It provides a role that requires a little more dramatic range than his straight action movies like The Transporter or Crank series, while giving him enough opportunities to sprint along athletically after suspects or beat goons about the head with blunt instruments to remind fans that this is still the same Statham they’ve paid to see.
As a thriller, it’s not exactly perfect. There’s an entire plotline that doesn’t go anywhere, in which a female cop (played by Zawe Ashton) reforms, gets attacked, goes off the rails, takes crack and is never seen again. There are some vague, interesting issues raised about the part tabloid newspapers play in criminal behaviour, but this is rapidly dropped in favour of more shouting and bone-crunching violence.
Blitz feels, in fact, like a much longer, more nuanced film, re-edited into a straightforward buddy-cop thriller. This, as it turns out, wasn’t such a bad idea, since Considine and Statham actually make an extremely good double act, with Statham’s alpha male gruffness playing nicely off Considine’s (stereotypical) scrubbed-up, public school sincerity.
Yes, Blitz has its flaws, but it’s well shot, its script is peppered with great one-liners among its more generic sentences, and its central pairing is so interesting that I’d actually like to see Statham and Considine reprise their roles in a follow-up. There’s already an air of sexual tension between the two in Blitz. Maybe in its sequel, their characters could throw caution to the wind, fall in love, and head off together on a glorious rampage of sweary, righteous justice. Now, that’s a film I’d love to see.