Jason Statham is arguably the leading action star of his generation, but with Redemption, the feature directorial debut from talented screenwriter Steven Knight, he attempts to expand his range for the first time since The Bank Job. While it’s not going to lead to any Oscar or BAFTA recognition, it does give viewers the chance to see the charismatic hero kiss a nun.
Statham plays a British Special Forces veteran named Smith who has fallen on very hard times. He’s an alcoholic homeless man huddling inside a box on a dingy London alley with a fellow homeless woman when a couple of criminals start harassing the junkies and the destitute. He reverts to his training, subdues the baddies, and makes a run for it, ending up in the home of a wealthy creative type who happens to be in New York for the next eight months.
Smith movies in, cleans himself up, and gets a job as a toughman for a local Asian gangster. Haunted by horrific acts he committed while serving in Afghanistan, he spends much of the money he makes now to help fund a local soup kitchen run by Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek).
When the woman he was with at the beginning of the movie turns up dead, Smith decides to hunt down the man responsible. Meanwhile, Cristina questions her personal faith, confronts her haunted past, and makes Smith contemplate his own violent nature.
While we are used to seeing Statham as a rock hard, remorselessly efficient criminal, we’ve rarely seen him play characters that have the inclination or capacity to talk about how they feel. At one point, Smith confesses to Cristina that he drinks to slow down the killing machine they made. It’s a make-or-break moment for the movie, and while he’s not going to be mistaken for Brando or De Niro, Statham can deliver a line like that without triggering a giggle response in viewers or sounding like he’s asking them to pity his character. Turns out that in dramatic scenes as well as action ones, he’s a no-frills-attached, get-the-job-done kind of performer.
Steven Knight has carved out a career crafting urban thrillers that offer subtle but pointed commentary about the hard realities of life for those scraping by in the big city. In his scripts for Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises he gave talented directors the blueprint to keep the tension sustained while also keeping an eye on humanity’s occasional inhumanity. All those elements are there in Redemption, and his straightforward directing style hits those notes efficiently. Redemption doesn’t stick in the memory as well as his collaborations with better directors, but it does indicate he has a baseline skill as a director and could grow as a filmmaker to the point that he may not need the services of such internationally respected names like Stephen Frears and David Cronenberg to say what he wants to say. leave a comment --Perry Seibert