A great actor trapped in a bad movie
November 21, 2013 by Thomas Wictor
It’s so painful for me to see a great actor trapped in a bad movie. I love Jason Statham. He’s far more than an “action star.” His great gift is wordless acting, especially in response to something he sees or what someone is saying. He’s a master of expressing suppressed emotion.
Stand in front of a mirror and try to project horror, empathy, and pain, as well as the effort to not feel those things. For Statham it’s a breeze.
His performances in Crank and Crank: High Voltage are enough to make him one of the greats, but he’s done far more than just those two masterpieces. Another of his unmatched skills is deadly serious camp. There’s no other way to explain it. He’s completely believable as a guy who can take on and defeat an entire roomful of thugs, but there’s none of that humorless Schwarzeneggerian self-love and preening. Statham somehow conveys that it’s all too silly for words, it’s still art, and it’s worth putting his heart into his performance.
There’s no rancid winking, no implication that we’re imbeciles, no “I’ll be back” catchphrases. Though a meta-action star instead of an action star, Statham respects his audience. I appreciate that.
Last night I saw Redemption, which was a great disappointment. It was only when I read the IMDb description after watching the film that I learned the true plot: Statham is an army deserter, on the run from a military court martial after committing a war crime. The movie doesn’t make that clear at all. Here’s what it says on the DVD box.
Jason Statham stars as an ex-Special Forces officer who comes home from the Afghan war a shattered man. Broke, homeless, and lost in a haze of drugs and booze, Joey Jones attempts to piece his life back together with the help of Sister Christina, a nun helping the poor. But while employed as a collector for a local mob boss, Joey learns the identity of a friend’s murderer, and, bent on revenge, finds himself sinking deeper into a dark world of violence in this brutally powerful action thriller.
The acting is exceptional. Statham is never bad, and Agata Buzek as Sister Christina is magnificent. She’s ambiguous, tragic, attractive, and powerful. I’d never heard of her, but I’ll be looking out for her now.
What happened is that the writers gave us a superficial, contradictory, melodramatic, confusing story that sledgehammered the usual “message” into our brains that war is bad. The problem is that the war crime Statham commits is ludicrous, and his so-called redemption consists of him becoming a leg breaker for the Chinese mob. Yes, you read that right. I didn’t understand it either.
In Afghanistan Statham carries out his atrocity under the eyes of American helicopters and drones. We see the crime in a series of flashbacks that reveal more and more, but it’s not in any way horrifying or suspenseful. The “Afghans” are portrayed as harmless Third Worlders just trying to sell Ali-Baba trinkets in their picturesque, dusty city. I’m sure the writers would refuse to accept that the Taliban are well armed, well trained, and well equipped.
The enemy in this conflict—whether you support the war or not—consists of warriors who easily inflict massive damage. They aren’t helpless children. Presenting them as such is the textbook definition of racism. The writers clearly had an agenda of denigrating the “Special Forces,” but they ended up exposing themselves as patronizing bigots.
By the way, the British army doesn’t have a combat unit called the Special Forces. The United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) is a directorate of the Ministry of Defense. The Special Air Service, Special Boat Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment, Special Forces Support Group, 18 Signal Regiment, and the Joint Special Forces Aviation Wing make up the UKSF.
In the movie Statham commits his atrocity because everyone in his squad is killed. He does it in the heat of the moment, which is very odd, since all the men are killed in a burst of machine-gun fire. A real British operator wouldn’t calmly step out of his vehicle after it was riddled with bullets and take the time to commit the deeply histrionic crime depicted. And if a squad of British operators was ambushed and killed, American helicopters and drones wouldn’t circle aimlessly overhead, narrating how the lone survivor was inflicting retribution on the civilian population.
I’m sure that the writers had the My Lai massacre in mind. Everyone knows that American troops under the command of Lieutenant William Calley Jr. murdered hundreds of Vietnamese civilians. For some reason nobody ever talks about the fact that Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr. landed his helicopter during the massacre, tried several times to stop the killings, personally rescued civilians, ordered his machine gunners to open fire on the Americans if they interfered, and then furiously reported the murders to the operational commander, whose call to the men on the ground stopped the butchery.
Redemption is a childish view of war and the military, and the subplot involving Sister Christina is even more foolish. The screenwriters don’t seem to know anything about human beings. Characters are made to do things in order to satisfy agendas. Once again we’re back to social commentary and trying to imbue art with deeper meaning so that…whomever will congratulate the artist for being so socially aware.
My favorite novel is The Far Arena, which has all the same elements as Redemption. It simply handles them in a more adult, satisfying way. If The Far Arena has a failing, it’s the de rigueur attack on “big oil.” Being the son of an oilman, I can tell you that everything you think you know about the oil industry is wrong. But as Tim says, everybody has to have a whipping boy.
Everybody except for me. Chasing the Last Whale has characters whose views I personally oppose, yet I not only present the person sympathetically, I present their positions without comment. In some cases I even defend those views. Why? Because it’s just a story. To make the novel as realistic as possible, I had to present the characters respectfully. I couldn’t make them into cartoons that we could all laugh at. I’m also smart enough to understand that at least half of the people I want to buy my books share the views of these characters.
Different viewpoints are fine with me. I’m not going to insult you just because we don’t agree on theoretical constructs.
By the way, I based the character Julian Buckley in Chasing the Last Whale on Jason Statham.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone optioned the book and cast him as Julian? I’ll let you know if it happens.
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