At least superficially, the canon of Jason Statham movies seems to be one marred by redundancy and ultimately blandness; showcasing a scowling, one man army raining down fiery vengeance on those that have wronged him. To an extent this generalization is true and at a baser level the action star’s films do stem from a familiar formula.
However, not only are there many gems to be found throughout his filmography but recently, he has chosen projects that are safe in appearance only (except Safe which was safe in name only). Redemption ultimately adds to that ilk even when it doesn’t always find the right balance between weighty themes, sombre aesthetics and the trademark Statham dry wit and physically demanding action.
This particular tale comes from writer-director Steven Knight who is making his directorial debut here (outside of television at least) after making a splash as a screenwriter with his Oscar nominated work in 2002’s Dirty Pretty Things. His two latest scripting duties were also very well received with Amazing Grace in 2006 and then the spectacular David Cronenberg drama Eastern Promises the next year. Perhaps then it’s no coincidence that both the religious elements from the former and gritty, crime aspects of the latter are present in Redemption (known as Hummingbird overseas) and for the most part they mesh rather well.
This faith driven angle stems from Statham’s Joey Jones’ rendezvous with the young Sister Christina, who mans the local soup kitchen (and who ultimately forms a bond with the former Marine now living in a drunken stupor on the streets). Most Hollywood actioniers love to bash on religion, either having a formerly pious individual turn killing machine after something tragic is thrown in their path or have a demented outlook on some sort of denomination be the motivation for a villain.
While I don’t have a problem with these (somewhat clichéd) devices as a whole, it is interesting to see Redemption neither attack religion or use it to smother the audience in heavy handed metaphors. The backstory Knight employs for Christina (while not groundbreaking from an originality perspective) is a strong and complex one, and the highs and lows shared between these two lost souls works in the context of what the film is serving up.
As Christina, unknown Polish actress Agata Buzek is perfectly cast as the shy but inwardly strong (and perhaps at times the opposite) young nun who hides an unconventional beauty behind her glasses and cornette. The dynamic she and Joey share serves as the lifeblood of the film and any and all progressions her character makes both to and from god are earnest and believable. Hopefully filmmakers and studios Stateside take note of her talents, as I can easily see a long future for her in film.
It’s likely the frequent character driven moments that will divide the most, as those looking for your typical Statham smackdown will likely leave disappointed if not completely bored. There is certainly more chat than smack in Redemption but for the most part it helps flesh out these central characters and more importantly their motivations, which help those actions (that may have come off as contrived) come off as organic (again, for the most part). The pacing can also come off as sluggish with too many shots of Joey hitting the bottle or hiding his cash after he becomes involved with the Triads. There is a lot going on in Redemption but with Statham serving as the rock and giving a soulful, dedicated performance to boot, I certainly never found it mundane.
Most surprisingly, in spite of carrying a more art house feel, Redemption supplies some of the best one-liners in recent memory, quips which are all the more effective because of the rather dour nature of the film. I won’t spoil any here but one involving a spoon is particularly gut busting. Reliably, Statham delivers these sequences with deadpan aplomb and at each juncture infuses the film with some much needed energy.
Then there are the expected instances when Redemption goes the action root and wow are they some wince inducing examples of bone crushing lethality. These scenes never go the sadistic or gory route but each blow Joey delivers efficiently finds its mark – we feel each impact. We’re not baring witness to some frilly, flip and dip fighting but rather the military death blows of an elite soldier and one dedicated to the tasks at hand.
So while Redemption may be a bit more unfocussed than the typical Statham vehicle or for that matter action fare of this nature, it’s actually better because of it and certainly more than the sum of its parts. You may leave the theater less pumped than after efforts like The Expendables or Crank but you won’t leave insulted. Redemption uses its leads to strong effect and doesn’t forget that a gritty actionier such as this can in turn be both bleak and refined.