Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jason Statham: Proper Villian

It hasn't been much of a mainstream movie year thus far (though it never usually is by this point), so thank goodness for THE BANK JOB for supplying some of the slick, professional entertainment that the movies are supposed to provide. Others will call it an old fashioned "B" movie, which is fine if they want to, but I say that by simply doing what it does (caper movie) and doing it very well it moves up the quality ladder than more ambitious movies that don't meet their loftier goals. It's telling this story about a bank robbery, not talking about the frailty of the human condition, and that's fine. THE BANK JOB actually happens a pretty big, complicated story that's easy to follow and fun to watch as you see how this bank robbery impacts not just some petty London thieves but also the criminal underworld, corrupt cops, political radicals, British politicians, and even members of the royal family, and it all happens to be based on a true story (even says that at the beginning of the movie). Kudos to director Roger Donaldson and screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais for understanding that they don't have to overdo or oversell this material and to just lay it all out and to keep it all focused on the story and the myriad of characters involved in it, just like a good crime movie should. It's is a solid 8 out of 10, but I suspect I will look on it even more fondly by year's end. We'll see.

THE BANK JOB has a big trump card by means of star Jason Statham, an actor who continues to grow as a major favorite as he appears in more and more quality features. I actually would like to compliment the entire casting of THE BANK JOB, which is filled with good performances (I was also especially impressed with Siobhan Fallon and David Schusette), but Statham truly is the glue that holds it together and the film is a big step up to what could go on to be one of the all-time great movie tough guy careers. That's probably a bit too much to say at this point, but Statham's got it, I tell ya, and if he stays on track he could become something special, and I mean Lee Marvin special. He's got two major assets that separate him from most of the other contenders out there these days such as Mark Wahlberg or Josh Brolin, fine actors both but not quite Statham-level. The first is his physical presence, super fit but not too fit, combined with his style of movement. Statham started out as an Olympic swimmer, so hearing that it's understandable that he's a guy who knows how to use his whole body when he's acting or ass-kicking. Not unlike Bruce Lee, movement is as much a part of his characters as the dialog they speak; this all obvious when it comes to the action stuff, but he's got a scene in THE BANK JOB where he's trying to tell his wife that he's going to be unavailable for a few weeks (without telling her it's a heist), and the nervousness combined with guilt is all over him, but not in an obvious way. He's stiffer and uncomfortable with what he's about to say (his element is in hustling, not emotional honesty) and he brings this about just right, so much so that I find the scene (which is a short one) a memorable one.

Statham's second asset is his likability, which is off the charts. Statham very cool, but also quite down to earth, personable fellow, the kind of guy you could share a pint or grab a smoke with where the two of you would just shoot the shit and have yourselves a laugh. Statham is like your cool friend, the one who makes you cooler by proxy, who has better luck with women and is a bit faster on the draw, but who still goes through plenty of the same of life's hardships that you do. He's cool like Connery, but with a touch of average cockney bloke that puts him in line with the likes of Michael Caine, though I wouldn't suggest remaking THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING with him playing both roles. He doesn't have that air about him that says he's unapproachable, while at the same time you know he's in another league as you. I think this comes across in the choices he makes for his films; he hasn't done anything high class just yet (BANK JOB is probably the first step in that direction), but he can associate himself with good material, like with the first two Guy Ritchie films (I haven't seen REVOLVER) and THE ITALIAN JOB, but even when he appears in stupid trash it's usually some of the best stupid trash around. The TRANSPORTER films are good fun, while John Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS (which is really just a supporting role) is some kind of masterpiece (I've got to write that one up one of these days) and CRANK is one of the very best trash movies of the decade so far, a terrific piece of work all around, but he proved himself to be the perfect lead for it. With a crazy premise (dying criminal has been injected with a toxin that will kill him if his heart rate slows, so he does all he can to keep it going in order to get revenge) you needed the most physical of actors and that's Statham. You totally buy that he can keep going as long as he does and you buy the determination that he brings to his character, all helping to make CRANK a smile-inducing piece of mainstream sleaze that deserves to be seen and respected by all. Hell, Statham even appeared in a half-decent Uwe Boll film (IN THE NAME OF THE KING) but while not off of his films can be winners (I'm looking at you, WAR) and I'm not anticipating his upcoming DEATH RACE 2000 remake (his casting is ideal, but it's Paul W.S. Anderson directing and there's no way they can top the original), I still have the feel that the future will bring great things for Jason Statham. You can tell when an actor has it or doesn't and Statham does. How far he takes it is going to make for an interesting time at the movies.

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