Director: Elliott Lester
Runtime: 97 minutes
While I’m not a viewer who believes in lowering their standards for a film simply because it might not be heavy on visual metaphors or subtext, I do go into a movie like Blitz with certain expectations. Seeing as this is an action picture whose main concerns are foot chases and people getting shot, some nice thrills, funny moments, and well-choreographed scenes are basically what I want. And, to a certain extent, Blitz delivers those things.
I repeat: to a certain extent.
While I generally found myself willing to go along with what director Elliot Lester and screenwriter Nathan Parker had concocted, there was often the sense that a much more entertaining and smarter version of this same story was lurking right under the surface. The design of it is completely baffling; side characters will come and go without reason, plot elements that are introduced in one scene aren’t even referenced for another half hour — it’s hard to believe that Parker could write both a wonderful script with Moon and a jumbled affair like this.
The story follows a cop named Tom Brant (Jason Statham) that’s in pursuit of someone killing police officers throughout London. He begins to work with recently-transferred Acting Inspector, Porter Nash (Paddy Considine), on finding the guy, a quest that becomes more and more urgent as the killings continue. We’re soon introduced to Barry Weiss (Aidan Gillen), who is almost immediately shown to be the killer; this will become a problem later on.
Our opening scene involves Statham going out at night to find some young thugs attempting to steal a car. After trying to intimidate them with some tough-guy talk, he eventually starts beating them with a hurling stick. Right away, we get who this guy is — he may not be anything original, but the basics are all there. This decent opening is undercut pretty quickly, as it also opens the door for the first of many clichés. When we next see him at the police station, post-news coverage of the incident, there’s the typical scene of the superior chewing him out for his brash actions. “How do you think this looks in the press?” and things of that sort are said, but we’ve seen it so many times that it doesn’t register in any way. (Nor do the snarky retorts of our protagonist.)
We get those in spades as the plot moves along, but the direction is strong and interesting enough where I could often forgive it. The way that Lester shoots even a conversation feels like something that would feel right in a more serious film; it gives the scenes a needed sense of weight. There’s also the nice way in which he composes his action scenes, where things come across as simple and to-the-point. A few stylistic choices even clicked, such as his way of capturing color in the settings, or how the homes of the characters represent the kind of people that they are.
The acting even works, but it’s disappointing that a great thespian like Considine would be given a character who could be interesting — a man who has to deal with discrimination from his colleagues because of a lifestyle choice — yet is merely an excuse to help the plot move forward. The fact that he’s a homosexual plays no part in him or the story, except for the first and only sequence it’s dealt with, which is still inconsequential; it is used as an excuse for Statham to make some jokes, though. When he’s given a scene to really act, his considerable talents are enough to pull it off, but the script is beneath that. Talking about a bad experience you had on a case is one thing — using it as the only true emotional moment seems like a mistake.
Aidan Gillen, meanwhile, is clearly having a lot of fun playing such a psychotic person, and he’s the highlight of the whole cast. There’s an energy to him that’s required for the character to feel like someone who could not only kill enough people, but also get away with it. As for Statham — if you’ve seen him in just about any other film, you know how he is here. Personally, I like what he does; his gruff voice and rigid stature play well to the scripts he’s given.
What ultimately makes the script a failure is — aside from some clunky dialogue — the way in which its structured. For example: A side story involves a reporter who’s being used by Weiss as a way of publicly promoting his crimes. The main problem is that something interesting lies in here — the way the media glorifies killers, how people learn about awful events through sensationalized stories, something like that. But it’s only used in an attempt to add some extra tension, and it ends up being an unfinished plot point (it’s actually resolved in a gag).
There’s also the aforementioned issue of knowing about Weiss being the killer from the start. I understand that it creates a cat and mouse game between the hero and the villain, but I can’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t have been a shadowy figure for most of the runtime. Not a whole lot would even need to be changed — just have him wear a mask or something — and much more excitement could be added by way of mystery. A scene of him shooting somebody in the middle of the day isn’t just ridiculous, it also robs him (and the audience) of much interest or curiosity.
I may have beat up on the movie a little bit, but Blitz is actually a somewhat decent action romp. As mentioned above, the direction and acting elevate a screenplay that left me scratching my head from “unacceptable” to “merely forgettable.” And none of the aspects that fail ever really fail too heavily; the real problem is that it comes kind of close to doing some neat, interesting things. Almost everybody except for Nathan Parker comes out of this unscratched, and Elliot Lester actually looks like true a talent. A very mixed bag, but one that won’t leave you offended.
Blitz was released theatrically in the UK via Lionsgate and hits US shelves on Blu-ray this Tuesday, August 23rd.
BAMcinématek The extremely exciting “Black & White ’Scope: International Cinema” begins its run with The 400 Blows on Friday, La Dolce Vita on Saturday, and a print of Andrei Rublev on Sunday. Anthology Film Archives “This Is Celluloid: 35mm” brings pictures from Lang, Ford, Walsh, Corman, and more. Dovzhenko films Earth, Arsenal, and Zvenigora play […]
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