In a triumphant return to Watch It Wednesday I review Jason Statham’s latest (and most peculiar) release – Hummingbird. While advertised in cinemas across the country, it seemed to be one of those sad films that looks good, but comes and goes between the mega movies like Man of Steel and World War Z. We’d seen Statham earlier in the year alongside Jennifer Lopez in Parker and featuring in a badass cameo in the equally badass Fast & Furious 6. But neither role really sought to expand the Statham range of cockney ass-kickery. Hummingbird, on the other hand, is very different.
You’ll first notice the colourful cinematography (courtesy of Chris Menges) that paints modern London in a myriad of colours and textures. It’s not as stark and art house as a Nicolas Winding Refn production, but it certainly adds a distinct flavour to the movie. It ignores the washed out browns and greys that seem to permeate modern British gangster films. Certainly Guy Ritchie has a lot to answer for in this regard.
I’ve often believed the quality of Statham’s films tends to relate to the length of his hair, with long indicating something poor (Ghosts of Mars – absolutely balls) and short signifying awesome (Crank – absolutely boss). Hummingbird both plays contrary to this trend, and supports it in equal measure.
Ex-marine Joseph Smith (Statham) starts as a bum. But not any old bum. A bum with long hair and a drug problem. And not the good kind of drugs. He gets beasted by two low-level gangsters and has his precious crack stolen from him. Cue a less than graceful escape through London. He tumbles into a handy London studio apartment, whose occupant is busy working in the US for the summer. Thankfully they’re the same dress size, so cue the whole “We can rebuild him” sequence of old Jason kicking the habit, rehabilitating himself, shedding the locks and becoming the Statham we all know and love.
Claiming his revenge isn’t a simple process though; His girl from the streets has gone missing – sold into sold into sex slavery – and he has to find her. But first he has to get his life together. His humble job as a kitchen hand in a Chinese restaurant leads to him ejecting some rude northern football fans. His physicality results in him being talent scouted and subsequently promoted to well paid enforcer of the local triad mob family.
This sounds pretty solid Statham so far. However you’d expect him then to turn over every stone (and every scumbag) in pursuit of his lost love. But this doesn’t work. Instead he slowly descends into the world of racketeering, people trafficking and murder, but not as the avenger, but as the wordless lackey of a gang of criminals. His moral centre is only kept pure by his frequent dealings with a nun, herself with her own shady motivations and uncertain future.
It’s interesting to note that the American release title for this film was Redemption. While Hummingbird is a bit less generic sounding (it actually relates to the drones used to monitor crowds in conflict zones such as Afghanistan), I would say Redemption is far more an apt name; Statham’s character has destroyed himself after going AWOL from the marines. He is only brought back to deadly life when his friend is taken from him, and even then he nearly falls back into the role of a meaningless enforcer. The whole film is about redemption, about coming to terms with your actions, and for ultimately doing the right thing.
Hummingbird doesn’t end with a climactic shoot-out or chase. Instead it concludes with Statham’s realization that he only is a tool to be abused when he is healthy, and no harm to anyone when he is addicted. So off he goes, back to the gutters to be lovingly swallowed up into obscurity once again. Pretty heavy, as Marty McFly might say.
Overall there is a very European feel to this film. Beyond the rich colour scheme, we have a world of accents, such as the beautiful Polish lilt of Sister Christina (Agata Buzek). Statham tangles with the Chinese, Americans, Afghans, and a whole range of English nasties. He even disguises himself as the toyboy boyfriend of an aged male photographer, all the while dispensing brutal street justice in the night. It doesn’t have the usual American movie excesses or fast cutting, and instead lingers a bit longer on the shots. The action, while prominent, is not the focus of this film. It’s still all about Statham, but not-so-much about Statham kicking ass, but about Statham really acting whilst kicking ass.
As Britain’s only resident movie hardman (Tom Hardy is still a bit too pretty), it’s great to see Statham stretching his wings, and pumping his oft little used acting muscles. He doesn’t play the usual unstoppable badass here, and instead features a wide range of emotions and meaningful reaction to the extreme circumstances he finds himself in. It’s like his version of Copland, save Statham doesn’t have the likes of De Niro or Keitel to over shadow his own performance. Even he admits to putting in the work:
If I had one complaint is that there is a lot going on in the film. It isn’t to the unfathomable extent of a Seagal straight-to-video release, but there are a lot of elements and a lot of characters who I really wish could have received some more development. If I had my way I would go so far to say this would have made a great TV series, something akin to Luther, perhaps. However it’s still very much worth a watch. It has a great visual style, decent action sequences, and a commanding performance from Jason Statham whom really takes the film by the throat. I’d love to see more from him like this.