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Socially conscious movies are nothing new and there are present in all genres. Jason Statham’s latest effect is a movie that wears its themes and political issues very much on its sleeve and marks a very different turn for The Stath.
Thousands of people are homeless on the streets of London, two of them are Northern girl Isabel (Victoria Bewick) and Joseph ‘Joey’ Smith (Statham), an ex-special forces soldier who has gone A.W.O.L. from the army and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Affected by drugs and alcohol, Joey is separated from Isabel, when they’re attacked by thugs. Eventually, Joey ends up in a luxury apartment, where the owner happens to be away in New York for a year. With his new found safety net, Joey sets out to rebuild his life and try to find Isabel with the help of a Polish nun, Cristina (Agata Buzek). Shortly, Joey finds out that Isabel has entered into the world of prostitution.
Over the course of a year Joey ends up becoming an enforcer for Chinese gangsters, finds out that Isabel was murder by a client, forcing him to go on a mission of vengeance and he becomes closer to Cristina, a woman who has her own personal demons.
For those who are expecting a Statham action fest you will be very disappointed. Redemption is a crime drama, not an action thriller. There are only three fight scenes in the movie. They are very well shot, choreographed sequences with a brutal violence (a man even has his arm broken): but these sequences are very infrequent. French audiences will be particularly disappointed considering the movie is called Crazy Joe in their nation.
Redemption is Steven Knight’s first movie as a director and he shows confidence behind the camera. As already stated he can handle fight sequences effectively. He’s also very effective when showcasing a bleak world of violence and sex. Knight was expertly able to juxtapose the affluences of the Convent Garden area (home of the Royal Opera House) to the back alleys of the same area where homeless are out of sight and out of mind. Knight also shows us how people can disappear or be forgotten within a metropolis and how some people are able to reinvent themselves, due to the anonymity that a major city can offer.
The grim and gritty setting and the use of the sex trade/human trafficking shows how Redemption shares some similarities to Knight’s previous movie as a writer, Eastern Promises. Even the basic set up of finding out what happened to someone who ended up being a sex worker is similar. Adding to that theme the three major female characters all have a tragic story of sexual abuse of some form, keeping it ever present with the social realistic tone of the movie.
While Knight’s direction was excellent at setting up the divide in wealth and poverty, his writing and dialogue was very hard hitting and unsubtle. This was particularly the cast of Cristina because of conflicts of faith and Christian duties while still accepting money and aid from a man who earns it from dubious means. Even the themes of guilt and redemption are thrown into your face with the title: the British title (Hummingbird) is more subtle.
Another issue involving the screenplay is due the movie taking place during a whole year end up juggling three different plots at same which occasionally overlapped. It was tough to balancing act and at times the pieces did not fully fit together.
Knight also has some unsubtle digs against the current state of the British economy, having jabs against the cuts as well against banker’s bonuses (even people on the Right in the UK hates bankers).
We all know Statham as a major action star and he rarely ventures outsides that genre. Redemption sees The Stath attempt a more serious, darker role and he cannot let the fists do the talking. It is most likely he was cast to ensure the movie got funding, yet Statham does deliver a solid performance, being silent and stoic, being able to offer some of his sardonic wit when needed.
Redemption is a bleak movie with very occasional moments of wit and action. It is a solid effort from Knight who shows confidence behind the camera. It is a refreshing change from Statham and this movie that shows even The Stath can cry.