Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, But...
Yes, as Ye Editor will doubtless already have made clear in his prefatory comments, it's that most joyous time again: a proper new Jason Statham movie is on release! Thrilling though the mid-credits teaser on Fast and Furious 6 obviously was (and I can only imagine how I would have reacted had I not known it was coming), there's nothing that quite compares to seeing Mr Statham in a vehicle of his very own (and I'm not talking about a sports car either).
The vessel of delights this time around is Steven Knight's Hummingbird (trading as Redemption and Crazy Joe in some territories, or so I'm led to believe). The problem with Jason Statham only making two or three films a year is that one inevitably spends three or four months getting in a bit of an anticipatory lather about each one – and when the great man goes through a run of less-than-completely-sparkling releases (which, with Parker, Expendables 2, and Safe, has arguably been the case) the sense of disappointment is inevitably somewhat crushing. Well, fear not, readers: Hummingbird is an absolute belter.
The story proper opens on the streets of London with criminal low-lives preying ruthlessly on the homeless of the city. When one of them attempts to fight back, he is savagely beaten and forced to flee, losing touch with his only friend (a young homeless girl). While being pursued by his tormentors, the raggedy straggly homeless man stumbles into an empty apartment (the owner is away for a year). Hiding out there, he takes the opportunity to shower, shave, cut his hair and have a change of clothes: and lo! He transforms into the Jason Statham Character we know and love!
The Jason Statham Character is, of course, an ex-special forces soldier with a fierce code of honour, and having effectively adopted the identity of his unwitting landlord he sets about finding his friend and turning his life around. A job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant rapidly leads to employment as a chauffeur and mob enforcer – but a grim discovery concerning the fate of his friend leads Mr Statham to set out to do a little enforcement of his own on a private basis...
Yes, I know: ex-special forces, lethal homeless man, friendship with young girl, people-trafficking, Chinese gangsters, vigilante justice, a spot of transporting – put like that Hummingbird does sound rather like the Greatest Hits of Jason Statham all shuffled together. And to some extent this is true, but since when was watching Mr Statham's best bits such an ordeal? Also, this movie does find some new and interesting things for him to do.
The opening section of the film has a sort of minor wobble where it looks like the whole thing is going to veer off into plotless arty pretension, but it turns out this is just setting up a nicely straightforward plot distinguished by having a couple of grown-up questions at its centre – can a person ever really change who they are? And what does it really mean to be good? But fear not: the film's exploration of these issues takes a form which includes the requisite helpings of regular, savage, bone-crunching violence, various shootings and stabbings, the delivery of some extremely implausible threats, and some just plain bonkers bits (there's a point at which Mr Statham turns up to a knife fight carrying a spoon). Also – and this really is a first for the Jason Statham canon – there's a subplot in which our hero romantically interferes with a nun.
This being a Jason Statham movie, we are not in traditional romantic territory, as he initiates his suit by inviting her to a private barbeque at a London meat market in the middle of the night. 'I think you have psychological problems,' the nun (Agata Buzek) informs our hero, which would not ordinarily be a good sign, but here merely suggests she is paying attention. Actually, the relationship between the two is genuinely touching, and well-played on both sides – it took me totally by surprise when it happened, but also managed to be plausible (relatively speaking).
Jason Statham actually getting into a relationship with a woman in the course of a movie is a bit unusual (though not totally unheard of). Certainly at some points in Hummingbird it's almost as if mixed signals are being sent by the film – Mr Statham pretends to be his landlord's boyfriend, he appears surrounded by photographs of male appendages at another point, and so on. I was almost put in mind of the alleged gay subtext to Transporter 2, but then again soon enough Mr Statham is getting down to it with someone who's taken holy orders, and if that's not definitive I don't know what is.
Hummingbird is ultimately all about the central relationship and the effect these two characters have on each other – there is a lot of stuff about Mr Statham being out for vengeance and a sort of vigilante justice angle, but it's secondary. The estimable film-critic Vern has suggested there are two kinds of vigilante justice movie: the first kind, where the act of being a vigilante makes the world a better place, and the second, where it just shows what a terrible state the world was in to begin with. If anything, Hummingbird is of the second variety – but only by default. This is a drama as much as a thriller, and as such it's less formulaic than you might expect.
On the surface this looks like another dystopian opera of urban pain (to coin a phrase), but the movie does have real heart and soul beneath the surface: it's a film which seems to desperately want to be hopeful and give its characters the happy ending they surely deserve. If the ending is ultimately ambiguous (and I'm trying really hard here to avoid spoiling the film any more than I already have), then it doesn't seem to be cynical about this. I had grown to care about the characters and really wanted the best for them; I found the conclusion genuinely moving.
And how often can you say that about a Jason Statham movie? Hummingbird is very nearly miraculous in the way it takes the Jason Statham Character and all the associated requirements of a Statham movie (the violence, the silliness) and inserts them seamlessly into a genuinely thoughtful and involving story with engaging characters and great performances. If the price of this is the film perhaps being a little light on the action front, that's a price I'm more than happy to pay. This is up there with The Transporter and The Bank Job as one of the best movies Mr Statham has ever made.