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Redemption stars Jason Statham as a man battling his own violent tendencies, a conflict that is mirrored by the film’s own schizophrenic nature. Part somber character study and part revenge thriller, Steven Knight‘s debut feature lacks the thematic depth necessary to take it seriously while not featuring enough of the high-octane action that its star’s fans have come to expect.
The charismatic actor plays Joey, an ex-Special Forces soldier who returns to London after a fateful incident in Afghanistan that’s clearly left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Drinking heavily, he suffers from hallucinations involving hummingbirds that act like tiny drones. (Hummingbird was the film’s U.K. title — it’s easy to see why the distributor changed it for the U.S. market).
Living on food provided by a soup kitchen led by Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), Joey briefly finds solace in the company of Isabel (Victoria Bewick), a homeless teen. But that quickly ends when she’s abducted by hoodlums and forced into a life of prostitution.
His fortunes take a sudden turn when he breaks into a posh apartment and assumes its owner’s identity, shaving off his straggly hair and donning the fancy clothes he finds there. He takes a job as a dishwasher at a Chinatown restaurant, where his forceful way of dealing with some drunken, belligerent customers brings him to the attention of its gangster owner (Benedict Wong) who promptly makes him his new enforcer.
Joey takes to his new position quite easily, meting out violent retribution when necessary even while taking care to not unnecessarily hurt the more innocent people he’s forced to deal with. And he’s quickly making loads of money, which he dispenses to both Sister Cristina to feed the homeless and Dawn (Vicky McClure), the long-suffering wife he abandoned long ago. Along the way, he also attempts to rescue Isabel only to discover that she was murdered, transforming his need for personal redemption into a thirst for revenge.
Director-screenwriter Knight, who explored similar territory in his screenplays for Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, displays a sure grasp of the underworld milieu as well as a knack for exploring moral ambiguity. But the subplots that he piles on here — most notably a burgeoning romance between Joey and the nun who eventually reveals herself as a babe in a slinky dress who’s more than willing to forget her vows — eventually bog the narrative down.
Gorgeously photographed by Chris Menges in a variety of London locations including Covent Garden and Soho, the film ultimately suffers from its heavy-handed attempts at dramatic significance. And Statham, for all his charisma and physical impressiveness, is not quite up to the task of conveying his character’s tormented depths.
Opens June 28 (Roadside Attractions)
Production: Shoebox Films
Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure, Benedict Wong, Ger Ryan, David Bradley, Victoria Bewick
Director-screenwriter: Steven Knight
Producers: Paul Webster, Guy Heeley
Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Joe Wright
Director of photography: Chris Menges
Editor: Valerio Bonelli
Production designer: Michael Carlin
Costume designer: Louise Stjernsward
Composer: Dario Marianelli
Rated R, 100 minutes
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