Thursday, June 6, 2013

Jason Statham Shows Off His Ass And Acting Chops In Hummingbird!

The Good: Decent performances, Good themes, Well-directed for such a dark film
The Bad: Sacrifices some character for action, Protagonist initially changes without an initiating incident.
The Basics: Jason Statham gives a surprisingly solid and dramatically subtle and intense performance in Hummingbird which gives him a chance to do more than just hit people (though he does that, too!).

I am not what one might call a fan, in general terms, of the works of Jason Statham. They are usually mindless, lowbrow violent action films that have little in the way of compelling or original plot or intriguing character development and a lot of physical and gunplay violence which just wears thin fast for me. As for Statham himself, his acting has never impressed me as much as the stunt driving in his movies does and so, it ought to be clear from the outset of my review of Hummingbird (or, apparently, Redemption? There seems to be some confusion as to which title it will ultimately bear, it was Hummingbird when I saw it) that I am not some sort of Jason Statham sycophant who will overlook all the bad elements of his movies. I was not drawn in any way to Hummingbird.

So, one might imagine my surprise when I was suitably blown away by Hummingbird. For most of the movie, Statham plays a character who has real emotional depth and conflict who is at a point in his life where he is ripe for growth and change. That does not stop director Steven Knight (who also wrote Hummingbird) from getting the unrecognizable vagrant who appears at the outset of the film shaved and dressed dapper as fast as possible to be recognizable as Jason Statham, but even after he does, Knight gets a performance from Statham that is both intense and emotionally subtle, capturing a working mind who does more than just punch and shoot his way out of his problems. In fact, the main conflicts in Hummingbird find Statham’s character Joey Jones looking for something more from his life than simply enforcing for the Chinese mob in London and, as such, he begins to use his violent instincts and military training to eliminate some of the less savory elements in the city.

Opening with spy drone pilots in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the story leaps to London, a year later. There, a woman is being assaulted in the alley when she is rescued by a stranger who takes a beating for her. Her rescuer is the vagrant Joey Jones, who escapes the assailants and finds himself in a flat that is not his own. He uses the opportunity to clean up, provide himself with a new wardrobe and haircut and upon hearing an answering machine message from the apartment’s owner, he realizes he has found a place to crash for the next few months. Utilizing a credit card that came in the mail, Joey gives a sizable donation to the nuns who run the local soup kitchen he used to frequent, which draws the attention of Sister Christina.

Plagued by the demons of what happened to him in Afghanistan, Jones spends most of his time drinking. But, when he quits the bottle, he gets a job at a Chinese restaurant and, after an altercation outside with some hooligans – against whom he holds his own – he is given the opportunity to work for the Chinese mob cleaning up the neighborhood. Acting as a thug and getaway car driver, Joey Jones uses the money he makes to feed the homeless and hungry at the soup kitchen he used to frequent. When the woman he knew from the streets, Isabella, is killed (probably from drugs Joey himself distributed), Sister Christina pushes him to change. Even as he begins to fall for Sister Christina and works to evade being discovered squatting in the photographer’s apartment, he acts as an enforcer for the feared Mr. Choy. Culminating in the night of a ballet performance, Hummingbird tells the story of two people; one desperate to keep her world making sense and the other wanting to change, but not believing he ever truly can.

What is so good about Hummingbird is that the characters are consciously aware of their own evolution and the film feels (for almost the entire work) like it could go in any of a thousand different directions. Will Joey abandon the lifestyle and run off with Christina? Will Christina break her vows and sleep with Joey? Will Joey go on a murderous rampage to find and kill the man from Christina’s past who wronged her (well, no, because of how that story ends, but as she tells it, one can see the wheels working Joey’s mind and the rage and sadness he is pushing back there!)? The film feels remarkably fresh in that it creates a realistic number of potential choice points to feel vital and like real life without seeming unfocused or banal.

Instead, the direction Hummingbird takes is the “hitman with the heart of gold” route and Statham, co-star Agata Buzek, and director Knight work together to make the movie feel like something that is entirely new and different and they (for the most part) succeed. I was impressed by how good the movie looked, especially given how physically dark so many of the locations were.

Of course, an intriguing plot and characters who keep one guessing would be nothing without great acting and, fortunately, Hummingbird delivers on that front. Here, Jason Statham makes the viewer intensely invested in Joey Jones, both his past and what decisions he will make in order to reshape his future. While he is plausibly as well-trained as the character is supposed to be given he is ex-military, what separates Hummingbird from other Statham performances is the emotional depth he is allowed to (successfully) explore in the film. Statham plays Jones as damaged, but not inherently evil and it makes the viewer root for him in a very human way, as opposed to rooting for the bad guy for the escapist thrill of it, as one might with Payback (reviewed here!).

But it is Agata Buzek who impressed me as much. This is the first work I have seen with Buzek and she plays the reserve of a nun wonderfully, while still appearing to be an actualized adult human being. Perhaps more importantly, she is so captivating that she takes a scene of simple, straightforward exposition and tells the story of Christina’s childhood trauma in such a captivating way that it entirely engrosses the viewer. That is powerful acting.

So for those looking for a standard Jason Statham flick with a lot of guns, blood, car chases, mindless killing, and dialogue that could have been written by a fifth grade student, Hummingbird is not it. Statham manages to surprise by delivering a heavy dramatic performance during the season not known for great stories. Here, he swaps spectacle for substance and it is a shame that come Awards Season, the myopic voters (and nominators!) of the Academy are likely to have already forgotten his truly exceptional performance here.

For other works with Jason Statham, please check out my reviews of:
The Expendables
Death Race


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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