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In Theaters/On VOD: REDEMPTION (2013)

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REDEMPTION
(US/UK - 2013)

Written and directed by Steven Knight.  Cast: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Benedict Wong, Vicky McClure, Christian Brassington, Victoria Bewick, Michelle Lee, Siobhan Hewlett, Ger Ryan.  (R, 100 mins)

Lionsgate isn't giving the latest Jason Statham vehicle much of a US rollout, primarily relegating it to VOD status while putting it on just 19 screens nationwide.  Though it has quite a few bits of traditional Statham ass-kicking, REDEMPTION (originally titled HUMMINGBIRD) is mostly a grim, downbeat character piece that marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Steven Knight, best known for scripting Stephen Frears' DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002) and David Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES (2007).  DIRTY PRETTY THINGS focused on the exploitation of immigrants in a black-market organ-harvesting scheme.  EASTERN PROMISES dealt with a midwife getting in over her head with the Russian mob after obtaining the diary of a drug-addicted, 14-year-old prostitute who died giving birth.  The dark side of London is explored by Knight once more in REDEMPTION, which complements the two earlier films to form a loose trilogy of stories about those forgotten by society struggling to survive in the ugly, seedy underbelly of the city.


Suffering from PTSD after his experiences in Afghanistan and on the run from a court-martial, former SAS officer Joey Smith (Statham) lives in a cardboard box in an alley with teenaged Isabel (Victoria Bewick), acting as a fatherly protector from the various pimps and miscreants that regularly terrorize the homeless people in the area.  After he's separated from Isabel, Joey lucks into a free place to stay when he ends up in the luxurious pad of a gay photographer who's spending the summer on a job in NYC.  Passing himself off as the tenant's boyfriend and helping himself to food, money, and clothing, Joey gives some cash to Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), who runs the church soup kitchen where he and Isabel regularly eat, and tries to find Isabel, who's gone missing.  Sister Cristina finds Joey washing dishes at a restaurant owned by some Chinese gangsters and tells him that she was murdered and her body dumped in a river.  After demonstrating his tough-guy prowess tossing out some drunken hooligans, Joey is given a job as a driver and collector for mobster Mr. Choy (Benedict Wong) and uses those connections to track down the man believed to be the killer.  Meanwhile, Joey forms a tentative friendship, and possibly more, with Sister Cristina, who's running from a troubled past of her own.


If you've seen the films Knight's written, then REDEMPTION is clearly less a Jason Statham movie and more of a Steven Knight project that happens to star Jason Statham.  Statham is a better actor than he's often able to demonstrate, and he's terrific here in one of his occasional stabs at moving beyond the TRANSPORTER and CRANK silliness (2008's THE BANK JOB and 2011's underrated KILLER ELITE also give him plenty of chances to show off some acting chops).  Polish actress Buzek also makes a strong impression as a sheltered young woman who can't even let herself enjoy a night at the ballet after Joey gives her some money and asks that she treat herself to something special.  Knight runs into some problems when he tries to cram too many things into the film's 100-minute running time and important elements seem to get shortchanged.  Indeed, with its dark pasts, the plight of the homeless, the abused and underage prostitutes, the Chinese and Russian mob, human trafficking, and Joey's quest for vengeance, REDEMPTION plays a lot like a Knight greatest hits package.  There's too much in Knight's script for Knight the director to juggle (in addition to shoehorning in some action scenes to please Statham's base), and it feels like he didn't want to part with anything he wrote.  With its dark, rainy, neon-soaked London masterfully shot by the great cinematographer Chris Menges, REDEMPTION looks great.  But as a filmmaker, Knight isn't quite in the same class as Frears or Cronenberg and one can't help but wonder how this might've played out with a different director at the helm who would've been more willing to streamline the more extraneous elements that either don't really get the exploration they need or weren't entirely necessary in the first place.  Still, despite its flaws and coming up a bit short compared to DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and EASTERN PROMISES, REDEMPTION showcases some of the best acting of Statham's career, and his fans will find it worthwhile.




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