I want to see more of this Jason Statham. The gruff, gritty Englishman is our foremost action star, but, well, Sylvester Stallone played Rocky Balboa and Bruce Willis played Bruce Coolidge. Sure, Stath has a few Guy Ritchie films to his name, but his career hasn't really progressed from there -- devolving into a string of rote, shallow, one-dimensional smash-and-punch films. Statham oozes charisma, but a little more texture to a few of his characters would go a long way toward curbing any potential Stath fatigue.
Enter Redemption, which on the surface does not appear to represent much of a shift but does in fact show us a side we haven't gotten to see very often.
In it, Statham plays Joey Smith, a former special forces soldier who has fallen on hard times after a tragic series of events in Afghanistan left his entire platoon dead and him facing a court martial. Living on the streets of London, Joey decides to get his life in order after a friend is murdered, using his deadly skillset to get work with the Chinese mob and search for his friend's killer on the side.
That description doesn't break with Statham convention -- in fact it sounds an awful lot like 2012's Safe -- but the underlying themes sure do. There's a lot more darkness here than I can remember in his previous films. Our first glimpse of him is as a beaten and barely recognizable vagrant with long, stringy and thinning hair. The glamorous suits and signature short hair show up later, but it sure sets quite a tone to have Statham look so terrible and wind up on the end of someone else's vicious beating. He begins and ends the film as an alcoholic, guzzling vodka to stifle the horror he was a part of in Afghanistan.
There's also a lot more self-awareness. Joey's only real friend in the world is a nun, Cristina (Agata Buzek), who constantly questions his choices, prompting introspection from our leading man. Has a Jason Statham character ever questioned what he's doing with his life for even a moment? Well, now that Redemption is out, we can say yes. I'm not sure that was the case beforehand.
This is not Rocky or Pulp Fiction, to be clear. Redemption is still a fairy tale in which Joey is able to quit binge drinking for a time to accomplish a goal, in which he is able to squat at a posh apartment for months on end, in which he is able to seduce a nun and it somehow feels both realistic and right. Though it is introspective, it is not particularly profound, leaning on simple religious themes to get its point across.
But it does feel like progress for Statham, and that's significant given the litany of schlock he's been a part of for the last decade or so.