Jason Statham proves he can more than crack skulls in seedy new drama...though he still does that too.
Every once in a while, Jason Statham leaves his fast cars and loud guns to offer a performance that dives into his natural embodiment of pure masculinity. Such an exploration can be found in the 2005 film London, which hardly played in the US, but nonetheless featured a striking dramatic role in which Statham played a man whose machismo is destroyed by his impotency. In this role, firing off power not related to his muscle size, Statham showed that beyond his interest in being a reliable action star, within him are palpable expressions about the rawer aspects of being a flawed man. Such urges are sporadically unleashed in Redemption, a film with the original title of Hummingbird. In this movie, Statham stars as Joey Jones, a creatively named man living in a cardboard box in London with his friend Isabel after suffering a traumatic experience as a soldier in Afghanistan. One night, Jones is chased from his residential alleyway into an apartment abandoned by a wealthy socialite named Damon. Soon after discovering that the apartment owner is not due to return home for almost a year, Jones decides to take advantage of this bizarre second chance that he’s been dropped into. After changing his hair status from “shaggy homeless man” to “Jason Statham,” Jones finds his way into the apartment owner’s bank account, along with a few pieces of clothing. He initially gets himself a job in a kitchen at a restaurant, but after beating up a few unruly customers, he is promoted to the position of thug for a Chinese gang. He becomes a driver and a collector, unleashing a suppressed violence that he’s pent up in the years since his days in the Special Forces. As his life begins to turn around, Jones also makes a point to look back at where he came from. He posts signs around the city hoping to hear from his friend Isabel; he donates money to a nun named Cristina (a gentle Agata Buzek) who provides dinner for his friends from the underground. In the process he also begins an honest friendship with the nun, despite her hesitations about the mystery man’s current life situation. When treating Cristina to a steak dinner, she indirectly reveals to him that Isabel eventually began work in a brothel and was recently found murdered in the river. This spurs Jones towards the interest of revenge, ready to forever abandon his status as a good man. In a role that uses his inherent Statham-ness to the film’s advantage, the actor becomes a compelling surrogate in the film’s title journey. Outside of his physical moments, he delivers on two key dramatic scenes. The first involves a display of anger not seen since Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, in which he barks ferociously after flipping a table over. The second is Statham welling up his eyeballs; a moment that Director Steven Knight knows is a rarity in the best possible way. A testimony to his power as a dramatic actor, neither of these sequences hurl Redemption into maudlin territory. This tale of rising from above the underground of London is written and directed by Knight, who essentially has become a screenwriting tour guide for all the ugly corners of such a mysterious locale. His previous two scripts, Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, prominently feature this location while also dealing with the ugly businesses that drive the underworld’s economy. Redemption, his feature directorial debut, plays out like a tribute to these films, re-using these elements but with questionable results. It should be said at least that this movie sure ain’t Eastern Promises. And on top of that, regardless of the good that he brings to this role, Statham definitely can’t stand next to Viggo Mortensen’s performance in that same film. Though Knight exerts more control than ever on a story, Redemption creatively lacks in its direction. This is one story of … err … redemption that seems to operate like it must follow a standard. The film plays out either like a bizarre anti-fairytale or a story of almost comical fate. Using a nun with her own dark past and the stupid apartment-finding luck of Statham’s character, Knight tries to shake up this arc of a man’s reinvention by throwing in some farfetched elements. Even in moments in which Jones hallucinates hummingbirds, Redemption holds its ground in spite of the oddness at play. Such elements would surely damn this movie if it didn’t already establish the grace that it has with such a common plot line. Some parts don’t work so well. One loose end worth mentioning regards Knight’s framing device of surveillance. In the opening credits, drone footage is used to show a situation in the Middle East and they are intercut with security footage in London. With this kind of visual peeping into the film every now and then, Knight adds unnecessary commentary to a story that needs freshness more than it does more weight. Fortunately, that aforementioned grace provides the movie with its needed moments of brilliance. Along with some striking imagery, Redemption reaches its peak moments when it slows down. There are at least two moments in the film that hold certain shots for a longer amount of time, simultaneously quieting the movie’s pacing. These non-spoilerable moments soak up the atmosphere of the film and also Knight’s characters, who don’t need to be constantly entrenched in their anxieties to hold our attention. However it may be sold, Redemption is definitely not an action movie. But the good news is that Statham does sometimes hit people and he strikes them very, very hard with his fist when the time comes. Remember that awesome moment in heist thriller The Bank Job where Statham kicks a brick out from a wall and then beat the living piss out of a bunch of dudes, looking as raw as possible? That’s the same type of effect that can be found here, boosted by crunching sound design and the movie’s overall tone. Things might be a bit goofy, but Statham and Knight are able to make it so that pain feels like a real issue. This movie’s butt kicking shouldn’t be a main pull for watching it, but it provides a lovely little bonus to this somewhat special Statham experience.
Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 stars