Directed by Steven Knight
Written by Steven Knight
United Kingdom, 2013
Jason Statham does not talk much in Redemption, but then, he’s at his best when he’s not talking. Statham is a human bullet, a harsh, rough, staccato force of nature at home in the bleak, shadowy alleys of the night than he is in the light of the day. So even though he doesn’t spend as much time as one might expect using his fists as dual battering rams in Redemption, his less-is-more performance makes up for a script built on too many conveniences.
Statham is Joey Jones—a name that is both clearly fake and is unbefitting someone as tough-minded as this bruiser—an ex-soldier now wandering the streets of London as one of its many homeless citizens. He’s haunted by his past military service in Afghanistan, coping as best he can with drink and a pretty girlfriend named Isabel. After getting into a nasty scuffle with some local hoodlums, Joey winds up alone in a lush and empty high-end apartment, whose resident is overseas for eight months. He’s able to get back on his feet, acquiring a job for a Chinese mobster as his driver/enforcer, while trying to locate Isabel, and becoming close to a helpful nun (Agata Buzek).
Some people may be surprised that, with this plot synopsis, Redemption (which is being released as Hummingbird in the United Kingdom, for reasons that make sense within the story) is less a movie about Jason Statham laying waste to the seedy underbelly of London, and more about…well, see the title. Writer-director Steven Knight (who wrote Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) lays on some of the twists and turns a bit thick, but the core of the film is the patiently developed relationship between Statham and Buzek. Both are actors for whom smiling looks almost painful—in a late scene, Buzek tries to goad Statham into flashing his pearly whites for a family photograph, and when he does, he looks as if he’s a gorilla beating himself up on the inside for showing his teeth, a well-known sign of weakness in the animal kingdom. And both performers do a lot with a little; Statham, in particular, talks so little here that the other characters are compelled to comment on his terseness. Unlike most of his standard-issue action-hero roles, in Joey, Statham finds a way to look wounded with just a slight cock of his eyebrows. For Statham, in all things, as little as possible is more.
Where Redemption falters is in its script and direction, both of which would be a lot better if they didn’t get in the way so often. Knight is talented, but after Eastern Promises, it’s worth wondering how much better his written work could be in the hands of noted, visually stylish craftsmen like David Cronenberg. Knight tries to infuse the film with a moody spirit, bombarding us with a frequently overbearing and, at times, melodramatic score; plus, all the dark blues you can hope for, as so much of the film is set and shot at night, in the grimmer parts of London. Eventually, the visual palette blurs together, making for a thoroughly unremarkable-looking movie, even as the performers within the blandness do their best to stand out.
And the script, so adept at crafting calmly paced two-hander scenes, has trouble setting up the main revenge plot Joey embarks upon. His relationship with the nun is well-developed throughout the film; even though they refer to him having visited her homeless outreach station in the past, the two communicate enough that we don’t need to see their past dealings. But Joey’s relationship with Isabel is discussed so often that it’s galling for her to have so little screen time. Seeing as Joey is so dead-set on getting retribution for her disappearance and possible death, it makes no sense to turn Isabel into a wisp of a memory, a cipher with no personality.
His detractors might say that Jason Statham is also a cipher with no personality. When you put down ten bucks for one of his movies, you probably know what you’re going to get: a tough guy who says more with his actions than with his words, because his actions are deafening. And there’s no question that Redemption is a movie with such a Statham-esque character. Though the script bogs itself down in plot contrivances in the opening and closing minutes, what comes in between is almost a chamber piece, a character study of the price of pain, the toll of being tough and not knowing how to turn it off. If nothing else, fans of Jason Statham will want to see Redemption, because they’ll finally get to see him act in between knocking nameless bad guys senseless.
— Josh Spiegel