Jason Statham has made quite a career of being an action star. He's got the looks and physical talent to kick butt with the best of them in Hollywood. But sooner or later you can wash out by continuously making Transporter and The Expendables sequels. To his credit he's diversified recently with the box office flops Parker and Safe. These movies show an actor gradually building to a more emotionally complex role. Statham has found that character in Redemption. The directorial debut of Steven Knight, writer of Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, Redemption is another ultra-gritty expose of street life. The film is riveting with a remarkable performance by Statham. He's finally flexing the acting muscles with the expected fisticuffs.
Redemption opens with Joey Jones (Statham) living as a destitute alcoholic. He shares a cardboard box with a young druggie, Isabel (Victoria Bewick). One night after being beaten down by local thugs, he gets separated from Isabel and takes refuge in the apartment of a vacationing businessman. With time off the streets, Joey slowly gets sober and seeks to redeem the sins of his former life. We learn that he is an ex-special forces soldier haunted by a mysterious act, who abandoned his wife and daughter when he returned from Afghanistan. As Joey searches for Isabel, he befriends a kind, but troubled nun (Agata Buzek). The pair strikes an unlikely bond; which is severely tested as Joey's actions reveal why he succ*mbed to homelessness in the first place.
Redemption is another well written film by Steven Knight. His characters are utterly engrossing with a realistic depiction of London's seething underbelly. The film is stark and unforgiving in a world with bad choices and evil everywhere. Knight took a page from the style of David Cronenberg and Stephen Frears; whom had directed his previous screenplays. So in a sense he's not doing anything extraordinary in his directorial debut, but had the common sense to emulate what worked for them. Knight doesn't overdo it. His material is raw and unflinching. He doesn't want to dilute the effect of the film with sensationalism.
Knight was also wise in casting his primary leads. The relationship between Jason Statham and Polish actress Agata Buzek is hypnotic. The pair played so well off each other with these wounded characters. Their pain, joy, solace, it all comes across as very real and intimate. Statham must have read this script and thought, here's a part I can play as a tough guy; but show audiences I have the acting range to play a homeless drunk. He's at his best here.
My one major critique is Joey's discovery of the apartment. The setting is absolutely key to him getting off the sauce and back in gear as he steals the identity of the occupant. But it is stretching it to have all the guy's clothes fit perfectly and the relative ease in raiding his bank accounts. Not to mention the interaction with the neighbors, who are too easily duped into believing he's the owner's lover crashing for a few months. It's a bit too tidy in a film with such stark realizations of street life.
Redemption is Jason Statham's best film to date. His acting performance flows seamlessly with Knight's script. Drugs, trafficking, poverty, violence and love against the backdrop of a broken man are damned interesting. There's also a sharp commentary about the surveillance society that exists today. With all of the news regarding government snooping, Redemption is as timely as it is entertaining. Not to be missed.