“I’ll kill you… with this spoon,” Jason Statham growls while interrogating a thug in the grimy back-alleys of London in his new indie thriller Redemption. And we believe him. Statham has made a career out of playing charismatic and dangerous men, to the point where we already know he’s a tough customer and are a little tired of being reminded of that fact, film after film. Luckily, Redemption is something new for the actor, something much better and more interesting than angry threats and rote action. In part thanks to his committed performance, it’s atmospheric, relentlessly gritty and utterly haunting.
Statham plays Joey Jones, an ex-Special Forces officer out on the streets, driven to alcoholism by horrific experiences during the Afghan war. Trained to kill, he’s a liability to everyone around him, only able to dull his instincts with substances. At risk of losing himself in the fog of addiction, Joey attempts to reclaim his life, with the help of a fetching nun (Agata Buzek) who has traumas of her own. Drawn into the criminal underbelly of the city, Joey hunts the twisted serial abuser who murdered his friend, while also searching for absolution.
Director and screenwriter Steven Knight, known for penning Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, succeeds in capturing the grimy, nightmarish atmosphere of London’s back streets. His shots are evocative and often beautiful, though the film’s ambience is downright uncomfortable, presenting a city that is decaying from the inside out.
Redemption, released as Hummingbird in the UK, thrives as Joey explores the seedy ganglands of London. At times, the crime on display is so shocking and brutal that it made my stomach churn, but that’s just part of why Redemption is such a potent and interesting film. Fittingly for a Statham picture, it doesn’t pull any punches. Another major topic up for discussion in the film is war. Joey did things while enlisted that he feels he cannot be forgiven for, and so, unable to readjust to society, he at first lets himself slip into darkness and alcohol abuse. The film also skillfully examines ideas of guilt, poverty, class inequality and morality, heavy themes that a lesser action film would balk at taking on.
It’s a testament to Statham’s emotive, complex portrayal of the character that we’re not sure whether we should be on his side or not. Joey does some truly terrible and brutal things, but he does them for what he sees as good reasons, in order to yield positive results. He’s capable of great kindness, but also disturbing violence, sometimes within seconds of each other. Certainly one of Statham’s strongest and most unique creations, Joey possesses heart but also deep-seated fury. He’s an unpredictable, ticking time bomb of a character. When he flies off the handle, breaking bones at dizzying speeds, Statham is exciting to watch, but equally thrilling are his moments of seething silence, where tension builds to unbearable levels as he questions whether to solve his problems with brain or brawn. After a long and illustrious career, it seems clear that Statham is still getting better with every role.
Polish actress Agata Buzek is also terrific as Sister Christina, a nun who becomes involved with Joey after he embarks on his quest to become a good man. Her commitment to the role brings the character to life in surprisingly affecting ways, and she’s a more-than-capable foil for Statham.
As an action film, Redemption is hardly high-octane, but it’s never less than compelling. The chemistry between Statham and Buzek, both lost souls searching for connection, is palpable and never feels contrived. Chalk it up to Knight’s terrific screenplay, which allows both characters to develop and evolve without sacrificing any of the film’s momentum. When the action does come, it’s unsparingly savage and expertly choreographed, but Redemption deserves a lot of credit for merely putting Statham in a film not built around his fists. It’s a bold move that pays off in spades.
Redemption explores a lot of different genres throughout its running time; it’s a character-driven drama, a brutal action thriller and a meditation on themes of salvation, virtue and atonement. Despite these shifts, the film doesn’t flip-flop, instead organically weaving together its ideas to create something truly rare: an action thriller with something to say.
The Blu-Ray formatting is well-done, with a sharp 1080p transfer courtesy of Lionsgate. The grimy glow of the city by night is preserved entirely, with sickening neon yellows and ethereal blues lobbying for dominance. The few scenes set during the day are balanced well, but nothing in the transfer detracts from the film’s grungy, underworld feel.
The film’s sound is also more than sufficient, with a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio Track rendering dialogue and most other effects suitably crisp. The sound of gunfire is utterly jarring, as the filmmaker intended, but all other sound effects blend well with the dialogue, so any trouble understanding the film’s script would have to come from Statham’s sometimes thick accent, which not even the best audio track can completely clarify at times.
The Redemption Blu-ray only comes with two special features:
- UltraViolet HD Digital Copy
- “The Making of Redemption” featurette
The featurette, which runs less than ten minutes, provides some intriguing commentary from director Steven Knight and others involved with the project, which shed some more light on their aspirations with the film. It’s short, but I’d recommend giving it a watch for further illumination of the film’s themes. The featurette also shows how some of the film’s more ambitious stunts were accomplished, which is always interesting to watch.
Dealing with much darker, weightier subject matter than Statham’s usual fare, Redemption explores London’s criminal underbelly while making profound statements about forgiveness, faith, violence, poverty and morality. It would be a mistake to pass this one up.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
An uncommonly moody and impressive thriller, Redemption benefits greatly from its refreshingly thoughtful tone and one of Statham's best performances in years.