Courtesy of a minor coincidence, two action movies set in modern London have got a release in
consecutive weekends – but while Attack the Block perturbed some critics (including your
correspondent) with its ambivalence towards young criminals, Elliot Lester's Blitz takes a
more straightforward approach: three of them get a good hiding with a hockey stick before the
opening credits even roll.
Then again, this is no more than one would expect from a movie which is essentially a vehicle
for the underappreciated British action star Jason Statham, who wields the sporting implement
in question. In this outing Statham gives us his portrayal of wild-man South London copper Brant,
who in real life would be a figure of urban nightmare: a brutal, uncontrollable thug, only partially
redeemed by the fact his heart seems to be in roughly the right place. He prefers beating up juvenile
offenders to arresting them. He conducts his interviews down the local boozer. He bullies the service
psychiatrist into certifying him fit for duty, even when he is self-evidently a violent sociopath. (It says
something for Statham's considerable charisma that Brant – just! – remains a likeable anti-hero for
most of the movie.)
However, Brant is in for a shock as a previous recipient of one of his exercises in community
policing has emerged from hospital with something of a chip on his shoulder, and sets out on a cop-
killing spree. Shocked by the deaths of their own, the top brass of the police install thoughtful by-
the-book-ish detective (implausible name alert!) Porter Nash (Paddy Considine) to handle the case
and stop the murderer, who's taken to calling himself 'the Blitz', and to this end Brant and Nash
forge an uneasy alliance...
Well, if you're anything like me, the news that Jason Statham and Paddy Considine are in the
same film will have provoked bemusement and confusion – I was sitting there during the trailer for
Blitz thinking 'Statham? Considine? Together?!?? Isn't there a law against things like that...? Still,
the pairing promised something a bit different from the usual fare either of them turn up in, and the
presence elsewhere in the cast of people like David Morrissey and Aiden Gillen suggested this could
be an intelligent and gripping movie.
Sadly, I must warn you not to be fooled, as this is very much a Jason Statham movie – and
a particularly savage one at that – in which Considine and the others occasionally make an
appearance. Normally, I am an enormous fan of Jason Statham's body of work, whether it be when
he's in steely martial-artist mode in the Transporter franchise, or doing his berserk psycho
turn in the Cranks, but Blitz is not, to be perfectly honest, one of his better outings.
It's a much darker and more realistic movie than most, with considerably less action: it's over
an hour into the movie before Statham gets to chase anyone around, he never takes his shirt off,
and doesn't end up fighting a dozen people simultaneously in a garage, either. This in itself isn't
necessarily a bad thing, of course, as it does focus your attention on Jason Statham's performance
– which, as usual, is perfectly fit-for-purpose – but it does mean the film has to rely on things like
script and direction in order to succeed.
This is really where Blitz's problems lie. The 'rogue cop vs psycho killer' plot inevitably
recalls Dirty Harry, but Blitz isn't remotely in the same class. Much of the dialogue is
very perfunctory and clichéd, and the story itself is flabby, with a lengthy subplot about a female
copper (Zawe Ashton) with a drug problem. Ashton's performance is great, but it has virtually
nothing to do with the main plot and drains tension from it as a result. Sensational details are
dropped in, purely for effect (Considine's character is gay, but other than allowing Statham to crack
some bracingly non-PC jokes this has no bearing on anything that happens). Worst of all, the story
is riddled with improbable coincidences and glaring holes – there were numerous moments where I
found myself thinking, 'Hang on a minute, why don't they just...?' The film didn't do enough to earn
the right to make those sorts of demands on my credibility.
And, in the end, the climax – such as it is – is unsatisfying on all sorts of levels. Earlier on,
two main characters have a conversation which appears to reveal which way the story is going
to go. It doesn't go this way. It goes exactly the way the conversation indicated it wouldn't, and
this is supposed to constitute a clever narrative twist. The film-makers may call this playing with
expectations, but I call it cheating.
In retrospect, the substance of the final scenes – obviously the need to avoid spoilers prevents
me from going into too much detail – is very much in keeping with the whole tone of the movie, but
they still left me feeling somewhat uneasy. Blitz sets out to depict a world with a bleak and
ambiguous morality – and a horribly grimy world it is too – but the climax seems to show Statham
and Considine yielding to this, and accepting that they can't hope to impose anything better upon it.
We could probably argue at length about whether or not this is realistic, but I don't go to the cinema
to see that kind of defeatist realism, I'm afraid, and as a result the whole film left a bad taste in my
Blitz is a fairly competent film with significant talent involved, and an attempt at exactly
the kind of commercial entertainment that should be the lifeblood of any domestic movie industry,
and I would really have liked it to be a commercial and creative success (quite why it's been released
when Norse thunder-gods and OTT pirates are hovering up the bulk of audiences is a mystery
– I suspect a real-life cop-killing spree in the UK may have forced a delay in the release date).
But, performances aside, it's just not quite good enough in any department to really be anything