The promos looked like a regular Jason Statham movie — crisp white shirts and fists that do the talking. The synopsis on Wiki and IMDB speaking of a traumatised soldier who returns from Afghanistan to avenge his girlfriend’s death in London seemed like standard issue Statham. The movie began in the regular way. Starting with chaos on the streets of Afghanistan, cut to dank, damp London, a homeless dishevelled man walks away from two-bit thugs. He enters a plush apartment, slips on a fitted shirt and shaves his head to reveal — Jason Statham.
Statham’s character, Crazy Joe, is your regular action movie hero — only slightly different. He is severely traumatised and drinks to forget, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a nun, Cristina, he works for the Chinese mafia, but treats the homeless to pizzas. He is a strange Robin Hood — working with the mob to help the needy.
The movie is different tonally. It is a lot quieter than a regular action movie and has a great deal of action for a drama. The action is muted — there are no testosterone-filled punch outs. Crazy Joe is a polite gangster who likes to do his job with minimum fuss. When he accepts the job of being a driver to the mob boss, visions of Transporter floated through my mind — but there are no high octane car chases either.
The movie repeatedly brought to mind David Cronenberg’s bloody and brutal Eastern Promises. Like that movie, this one too is set in the London underworld and both movies are about redemption and hope. It came as no surprise that director and writer Steven Knight had written Eastern Promises.
Hardcore fans of Statham’s action avatar might be disappointed with the contemplative tone of the film. However, it moves briskly and the character studies are interesting — Joe is Catholic and there is a poignant tale behind Sister Cristina’s love for ballet. The relationship between Joe and Cristina is also quirky and tender. Hard copies of photographs put in covers with “do not bend” written on them and hand-written notes in the days of camera phones and text message give a timelessness to the movie, echoing the old-fashioned morality tale. And when all else fails, Statham obligingly strips for the camera.
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong, Ger Ryan, Christian Brassington
Storyline: A disturbed Special Forces officer trawls London’s underbelly for revenge and redemption
Bottomline: A different thriller