Starring: Jason Statham, Agata Buzek, Vicky McClure
You may like this if you liked: Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood, 2008), Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993), The Limey (Steven Soderbergh, 1999)
Ex Special Forces agent Joey (Statham, of course) now lives as a ghost amongst the homeless of London. After being badly beaten by a group of men after trying to protect a young woman called Isabel (Victoria Bewick) Joey manages to break into an upper class apartment through a skyline window. After discovering that the owner will be away for a few months, Joey assumes the man’s identity to get his life back on track with the help of Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), a nun who works at his old homeless shelter with demons of her own. Using his military skills, Joey begins working as a heavy in the dark London underworld, using the money he earns to give to those that need it. However, after discovering that Isabel was used for prostitution and then brutally murdered, Joey swears vengeance on all those involved which takes him deep into the heart of London’s dark underworld and may ultimately both redeem him but cause his demise.
So, this is familiar territory; an action star attempting serious ‘acting’ and going for the more gritty approach to prove he is not just a pair of fists and an intense stare. Now it is the turn of England’s best action export to have a go at the gritty stuff. I make no secret of the fact that I am personally a fan of Statham and I thought he was perfectly suited to the role and gives a committed performance. Of course it is convenient that he looks the part when he is required to use his fists, but between the brawls and fisticuffs I thought Statham was very solid, giving us a likeable and sympathetic protagonist. Statham is in my view a decent actor when he wants to be and his intense stare and obvious internal torture and conflict give us a protagonist to believe in.
Unfortunately for me, it is the material Statham is given and the actual writing that stops Hummingbird from being anything other than above average. Writer Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) has a good track record and there is serious potential here, and though it all ticks along nicely it never quite packs as hard an emotional punch as it wants to. There is a slightly deluded element of smug self righteousness in the script using the whole ‘dark side of London that you never see’ tag. Yes we do; there are many films that deal effectively with the harsh realities of inner city life (London and many others) or indeed anyone who watches the news will hardly find this film an eye opening education. There is indeed a preachy and slightly patronising feel to this film which inevitably slightly alienates the supposedly higher brow audience it wants to aim for and prevents Hummingbird from being any more than solid.
Despite the feeling of self importance in the script, plot wise Hummingbird is pretty much a solid but extremely generic vengeance by numbers story. There is the usual character arc of redemption and solace, I guess explaining why in the States this film is actually called Redemption. Though his script may not be exactly life affirming, in what is his first directorial feature length effort Knight definitely seems to have an eye for effective visuals. The use of both the upper class and dirty run down London locations proving a very effective and atmospheric setting. Again, never providing a feeling of ‘I never knew London had homeless people’ because anyone watching this has social awareness, but there is a consistent and effective atmosphere of repression and social injustice throughout the narrative. The violence too is suitably nasty and never over stylised.
Not only is Statham very effective in his role, but Agata Buzek gives a subtly effective performance as Sister Cristina. She provides genuine emotional substance to both her character and the film as a whole. As the story plods along it is never in doubt what is going to happen and perhaps a little suspension of belief is needed as Joey seems to easily avoid capture despite sometimes it feeling like the entire London police force is after him. There is also the subplot involving Joey’s estranged wife (an underused Vicky McClure) and daughter. The very few scenes are genuinely moving and perhaps this could have received a little more attention in the narrative. However, overall this is a very watchable and well made thriller. I didn’t ever have me on the edge of my seat, but neither did it ever bore.
Hummingbird is ultimately perhaps a case of unrealised potential with not as much substance as it believes it has got. The preachy tone and generic plot provide limitations, but otherwise Hummingbird is a well acted, solidly directed, effectively atmospheric and watchable drama.